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Julius Peppers Producing, and the Packers Need It

With the linebacker corps banged up, 36-year-old Julius Peppers is rising the occasion at the perfect time.

Remember when Julius Peppers was old?

During a four-game stretch spanning the Chicago through Tennessee games, Peppers had one sack and three total tackles. Now, Peppers is on a three-game sack streak. His sack of Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler on Sunday was No. 142.5 of his career, which passed Michael Strahan for fifth place on the NFL’s all-time list.

“The first goal is to get 100 sacks,” Peppers said on Monday. “I started looking at that about five years ago – trying to get 100 sacks. From there, you keep trying to climb the charts.”

Peppers has been Mr. Consistency in that climb up the charts. This is Peppers’ 15th season. He has recorded at least 6.5 sacks in 14 of them. Only Bruce Smith did it in more seasons (16).

FOR MORE ON PEPPERS, CHECK OUT THE POST FROM PFF IN THE MEMBERS FORUM

Peppers, who will turn 37 on Jan. 18, has 6.5 sacks this season. Among players ages 35 and older, he ranks No. 1 in sacks, with Pittsburgh’s James Harrison with five, Atlanta’s Dwight Freeney and Indianapolis’ Robert Mathis with three, and nobody else with more than one-half. It’s not just the older crowd. Stretching it out to players ages 32 and older, which greatly expands the sample size and includes players at or near the peak of their careers, Peppers is fourth in sacks.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers coached Kevin Greene in Pittsburgh and Jason Taylor in Miami, so he has an appreciation for players who continue to produce at the end of their careers.

"He’s a rare guy to be able to do the things athletically that he’s doing at his age right now and perform that way," Capers said. "We’re just glad we have him."

The Packers need every bit of his production. Nick Perry, who has a team-high 8.5 sacks, suffered a hand injury in the first quarter and played only 12 snaps. Clay Matthews, who has been playing through an injured shoulder, has spent most of the past two games at inside linebacker and could remain in that role, unless the injury to Perry necessitates more time on the edge. Rookie Kyler Fackrell has been inactive the past two games with an injured hamstring and had gone without a sack in his previous six games.

To keep Peppers fresh for the stretch run, Capers had been limiting his snaps for most of the season. In the first 10 games, Peppers had averaged 30.1 snaps. Against Tennessee and Washington, Peppers played a total of 45 snaps. Against Philadelphia, with Matthews moved inside and Fackrell inactive, Peppers played 43 snaps. Against Houston, with Matthews mostly inside, Fackrell inactive and Perry injured, Peppers played a season-high 58 snaps. Viewed by percentage of snaps, Peppers played less than half in eight of the first 10 games. His 87.9 percent playing time against Houston marked the first game in which he played even three-fourths of the snaps.

“I feel good. I’m rested,” Peppers said.

“There’s only four games left,” he added later. “It’s only four games. I feel fine. The rest early on probably helped save me for this time of year. Who knew that we were going to have a rash of injuries like this come along and I was going to be forced to play. I feel good and, like I said, we’re taking it one at a time but there’s only four games left for sure.”

Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.


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