Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

by Michael David Smith

Is Julius Peppers underrated? That might seem like a silly question because everyone who follows football knows that Peppers is a good player, a rare talent who has not only the typical strength of a defensive end but also the speed and athleticism of the power forward he once was. But watching Peppers on every play of the Carolina Panthers' 23-21 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, my jaw dropped at seeing not just a good or even very good player, but a defensive lineman doing things I didn't think a defensive lineman could do.

Baltimore's blocking schemes revolved around controlling Peppers. On each play of the Ravens' first possession, both right tackle Tony Pashos and running back Jamal Lewis blocked Peppers. All three plays were passes, and on all three Lewis chipped Peppers before running his route because the Ravens figured that Pashos couldn't keep Peppers off quarterback Steve McNair without Lewis's help. Peppers didn't do anything extraordinary on that possession, but just seeing the way Baltimore opened the game showed how much its game plan focused on Peppers.

On the second possession, Baltimore still doubled Peppers, with little success. On the first play of the series both Pashos and right guard Keydrick Vincent blocked Peppers. On the second play, Vincent held Peppers, but it wasn't called. On the third play, Peppers bull-rushed Vincent, collapsing the pocket and forcing McNair into a bad throw, which strong safety Colin Branch intercepted. At this point, the Panthers' defense had been on the field for six plays. Peppers had been doubled four times and held once, and on the one play he was neither, he forced a turnover.

Holding was Baltimore's most effective strategy. On a second-and-4 on Baltimore's fifth possession, Peppers stunted to the inside and Vincent held him. In fact, Vincent held Peppers every time they went one-on-one. Later in the game Pashos started joining Vincent in holding. The officials never called it, though. It was actually a smart tactic. Referee Peter Morelli's crew was calling the game, and that crew has called by far the fewest holding penalties of any group of officials this year. If the officials aren't going to call it, the linemen might as well do it. My advice to all offensive linemen: When Morelli works your game, just hold all day.

On the Ravens' third possession, Carolina's defense revealed a different wrinkle when Peppers dropped into coverage on first-and-10. Peppers' presence kept McNair from having an easy checkdown to Lewis or tight end Todd Heap, and that forced McNair to hold onto the ball too long. Linebacker Chris Draft and defensive end Mike Rucker sacked him, knocking him out of the game.

Peppers dropped into coverage a few more times as Carolina zone-blitzed with Draft or other linebackers. On a first-and-10 in the third quarter, Todd Heap went in motion to the right and Peppers dropped back to cover Heap, which would usually be a linebacker's job. Kyle Boller (who played most of the game in relief of McNair) rolled to his right and threw to Heap, and Peppers tackled him for a nine-yard gain. In general, I don't like that strategy for the Panthers. Why not have Peppers rush the passer so Boller can't roll to the right in the first place, rather than having Peppers drop back and therefore giving Boller free rein to find someone open? It's not that Peppers can't cover the tight end, it's just that he's so great at rushing the passer that having him in coverage seems like a waste. It's an interesting strategy for an occasional change of pace, but generally if the other team is passing and Peppers isn't rushing, Carolina isn't using his talents properly.

After the sack that knocked McNair out of the game, Boller's first two plays were probably Peppers' most impressive plays of the day. On second-and-19, Peppers lined up at left end. Boller threw a short pass to Lewis along the sideline on the opposite side of the field, and Peppers pursued Lewis across the field and pushed him out of bounds after a gain of only five yards. Defensive ends just aren't supposed to run down running backs like that, but Peppers did it. And on the next play, Peppers made the tackle in pursuit on the opposite side of the field again. It was third-and-14 and Peppers rushed to the outside. Pashos blocked him, and running back Musa Smith helped with a chip. Boller rolled out and took off running on the other side of the field, and Peppers ran across the field and tackled him for a gain of only six yards.

That pursuit is what separates Peppers from other defensive ends. On third-and-15 on Baltimore's fourth possession, the Ravens ran a draw to Smith. Peppers started the play on an outside rush. On that type of play, the offense doesn't worry about the defensive end -- even the best defensive ends can't be expected to rush to the outside and then tackle a running back on a draw up the middle. But when Peppers recognized the draw, he reversed course, drilled Smith and forced a fumble. Peppers isn't like other defensive ends.

On a first-and-10 later, Mike Anderson took a handoff off the right tackle, running away from Peppers. But when the right side of the Panthers' defense bottled up Anderson, it was Peppers, pursuing the play from the backside, who tackled Anderson for a loss of two.

While I'm praising Peppers I should acknowledge the obvious, which is that he doesn't make every play. On a third-and-9 with Boller in the shotgun, Peppers tried to rush to the outside, and Pashos did a nice job allowing him to rush upfield but not collapse the pocket. Boller had time to pick up the first down while Peppers essentially took himself out of the play. But those plays were the exception, and Peppers' pressure masked some bad coverage from Carolina's secondary. On a third-and-6 on Baltimore's sixth possession, Heap beat Carolina defensive back James Anderson and was open deep, but Peppers' pressure forced Boller to throw the ball without getting completely set, causing an incompletion on what could have been a 40-yard gain. On one first-and-10 in the third quarter, Lewis was left to block Peppers one-on-one. That was a mismatch. Boller rolled to the outside, Peppers got past Lewis and got in Boller's face, and Boller had to throw the ball away to avoid a sack.

Sacks are the main way defensive linemen get attention, but I haven't even mentioned Peppers' two sacks Sunday. One was a first-and-10, when Peppers rushed straight ahead into Pashos, knocked him to the ground, and sacked Boller for a loss of six yards. The other came on a second-and-10 when Peppers rushed to the outside and evaded both Pashos and Vincent. Boller tried to run up the middle, and Peppers reversed course, getting into the middle of the field to sack Boller for a three-yard loss. Peppers shows a very instinctive ability to know where the ball carrier is going. Most defensive ends would have continued to rush to the outside, but Peppers seemed to sense that Boller was going to go up the middle, and he got there in time to sack him.

So if Peppers can sack quarterbacks, run down running backs, and cover tight ends, is there anything he can't do? If I were an opposing offensive coordinator, I'd try to run directly at him. Peppers is a strong player and a sure tackler, but if he showed any weakness Sunday it was that Pashos sometimes beat him in straight-ahead run blocking. But this is a mere quibble. Peppers showed on Sunday that he's not just a good player. He's the best defensive player in the NFL.

Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season.


84 comments, Last at 24 Oct 2006, 6:57pm

2 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

This is exactly what I was afraid of with the matchup. Pashos is best in straight run-blocking -- his footwork has had to be completely rebuilt since he left Illinois -- but the Ravens run primarily to the left, behind Ogden and usually Mulitalo. Perhaps now that Edwin is out for the season, and Billick is desperate to do something to shake up the offense, there will be more calls behind Pashos.

Peppers isn't Freeney though; maybe Panther fans can speak more as to how he copes with being the target of the running game. As strange as it sounds, Pashos and company did about as well as you can expect.

3 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Peppers isn't Freeney thats for sure.. Look at the stats since they came into the league. Freeney has 2.5 more sacks, but Peppers has 5 blocked field goals, 50 more tackles, 3 more interceptions, 16 more passes defensed.....

4 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Yep, the only thing to do, not that it is a solution, is to run right at him, because otherwise his speed just kills. In this regard, it is best for the Panthers that he lines up at left end, since most teams have their best tackle, even for run blocking, on the other side.

I've always been partial to Seymour, due to his versatility, but with Peppers' current level of play, and Seymour's injuries last year, I'd give the nod right now to Peppers. It'd be fun to see a Pats/Panthers Super Bowl to see both of them in the big game. If Smith and Peppers stay healthy, Carolina has a chance, as do the Pats, especially if they avoid the Broncos.

6 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Excellent article. I appreciated the addition of the Morelli data, and how the number of calls/non-calls can affect a game.

7 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

I think Peppers may be the best Defensive End RIGHT NOW, but i think that Mark Anderson can form into a something really special in the future. He only gets limited action, and makes the most of it.

With best defensive player in mind, i think that it's Brian Urlacher hands down. Did you see him in the final minutes of the Monday Night Football game? I don't there is any player that can stop when he gets into his 'zone'. 19 tackles in a game is nothing short of legendary.

8 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Urlacher is a great player, but everytime I see him, I remember him getting owned by Bettis last year.

10 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Off topic, but this is the most current thread. Why is there no Sunday night game for week 7? I originally thought it was because it was a 6 team bye week, but so was last week and there was a game. Is it to make up for the doubleheader on week one? Anyone know for sure?

11 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Uhrlacher is a great player, but a linebacker is inherently dependent on the line in front of him, whereas a dominant defensive lineman can control the game by himself to a much greater degree. If one were starting a team from scratch this morning, and the first choice was either Peppers or Uhrlacher, Peppers would be the better choice.

12 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Adam: is this the week that flexible scheduling for Sunday night games kicks in? That might be it.

13 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

I don't know if Peppers is the best defensive player but Urlacher is definitely not. He gets a ton more credit than he deserves cause he plays on a great defense but he is extremely adverse to getting hit. He avoids contact to the point that he takes himself out of plays sometimes. Tackles is a meaningless statistic when considering defensive ability but the fact that he gets so many can be attributed to his great speed and instincts. When his speed starts to go, he'll go downhill fast.

14 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

World Series, Adam. With the prices NBC is paying, they don't want any sports competition at all, even if the NFL game beat out the baseball game ratings-wise. Toss in the reasonably decent chance that a New York team, in the largest t.v. market, will be in the Series in any given year, it doesn't make sense for NBC to pay for a game on that night.

15 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Mannie, I love brian but you always have to take counting stats with a grain of salt. Sure, 19 tackles, but how often does the Bears defense be on the field for 40 minutes opponent TOP?

Also, I love Mark Anderson but his only impact play Monday was when he was inexplicably completely unblocked. His production before that was primarily because they call him in to sub for one of the other guys when they think the O-lineman was tired and fresh legs can beat him off the snap.

16 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Benjamin, I'm not as harsh as you, but there is no doubt that the quality of Uhrlacher's contribution would fall dramatically behind a below average defensive line, whereas Peppers would remain dominant on any roster in the league.

17 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Actually, in reference to Peppers' run defense, a rival to FO's (who I won't mention since FO is a favorite of mine) stated this in the offseason:

"I don't want to burst your bubble, but Peppers had some of the best run defense metric lines of any DE in the NFL. He had the 7th highest success percentage (28.3%) and the 2nd highest yards per POA run allowed (3.0). He was dominant against the run."

18 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Oh, you're right Chris; like I said, running at Peppers really isn't a solution. It's just a matter of how you want to have him stuff you. I think the potential for turnover mayhem, and tackles behind the line of scrimmage, is actually reduced a little when you run at him, as opposed to what he can do when he can use his speed to full advantage.

19 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

If I am not mistaken, no Sunday night game is scheduled due to the World Series Broadcast of Game 2 on Fox. And with Murdoch's Fox Network paying the NFL & MLB Billions in rights fees, they can call the shots on scheduling.

20 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Peppers and Seymour already faced each other in Superbowl XXXVIII (gamebook linked to my name). They both had quiet games--two tackles each, no sacks, INT's, or passes defensed, thought Seymour had a fumble recovery. Of course, they were both significantly younger then. And those stats say nothing about if they were both double teamed to take them out of the game.

It's tough to compare them, because Peppers is a true DE in a pure 4-3 defense. He almost alwyas rushes outside, and is obviously faster than Seymour. Seymour is a DE in a 3-4, which is really like a DT that sometimes makes outside moves (i.e. there's usually a LB that pass rushes outside him, or if not he's expected to take on a double team of both a tackle and a guard in order to open a hole for a LB rushing behind him), and a DT when the Pats play a 4-3. He's probably not as fast, but probably much more powerful and more able to overcome double teams. Different skill sets. Differently used by their teams. Difficult to compare, either objectively with statistics, or even subjectively.

What would be fun would be to see them play on the same team. Imagine an O-line coach trying to gameplan against a D-line with Peppers at DE and Seymour at DT... Who do you double team? It'll never happen, at least not while they're in their primes, because neither team is crazy enough to let either one walk.

21 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

I'm going to focus in this post solely on Peppers' pass rush: One issue that The Blind Side fails to address (at least in the first 260 or so pages; I still have about 40 to go) is the apparent trend of teams lining up their best pass rushers on the left side of the defensive line instead of the right, as the Panthers often do with Peppers. I suppose that this can be taken as further evidence of the emergence of the left tackle as a premier position in the NFL: Modern football has done such a good job of producing great left tackles that opposing defenses have to move their best pass rushers to the other side of the line in order for them to be effective. What I'm not sure of is whether Peppers' production is less impressive because he is generally facing the lesser obstacle of a right tackle or more impressive because the quarterback can see him coming and still often can't get away. Also, I wonder if Peppers would force more fumbles if he generally came from the blind side (although the fact that he has 17 forced fumbles in 4+ years is pretty darn impressive already).

I should note that I don't watch a lot of Panthers games, but in the ones I have seen and in highlights, I've usually seen Peppers at left end. If he's lining up on the right side more often than I think, please correct me.

22 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

If I were building an all-star defense and had my pick of any players out there, I would probably take Seymour, Peppers, Champ Bailey, and then maybe Urlacher, in that order (don't hold me to that, though--I only thought about it for about fifteen seconds). Not arguing that Seymour is better than Peppers, but I think it's harder to find a player that can be either an elite DT or a very good DE than it is to find a player that is an elite DE. But if you're building, you definitely start on the line, since that strongly affects every aspect of your defense. Bailey is just too good right now not to be in the top 3. Urlacher falls because LB is dependent on the line, and like some others have said, an elite LB will not cover up a bad line, but an elite line and a good secondary can be used to hide weaker linebackers.

23 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Yeah, Peppers and Seymour aren't really comparable, and, like I said, I've always been partial to Seymour because his versatility helps a defense so much. Who knows? By the end of the year I might prefer Seymour again, and maybe another Super Bowl in which to compare them will make it a more clear-cut choice.

25 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

16 - Then, has Urlacher never had a below average defensive line? Becuase he has been dang good every year (save the season where he missed 7 games and played the rest on a gimpy hammy). Still, the Bears were 0-7 in the games Urlacher missed that year, and 5-4 in the games he played.
I generally agree that a defensive lineman can generally have a greater individual effect on a game.

27 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

No, Nate, I don't think Urlacher has ever had a below average defensive line, but I could be misremembering, especially his rookie year. Also, his performance really has improved as his defensive line has improved, which is certainly no harsh criticism. It is extremely rare that a linebacker excels when playing behind a below-average defensive line.

28 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Nice to finally see that someone other than myself and the other 15 Panthers fans in existance notice how much Peppers is held. And although the article may indicate it is an isolated event because of the officiating in this particular game, I can tell you it isn't: It happens in every game. I just can't figure out how they continuously get away with it!

Also, for what it's worth, I can't help but think part of Pepper's success this year has to do with Kemo and Jenkins. The last year he started this strong was in 03 which just happened to be the last year Jenkins played. Having Kemo and Jenkins able to collapes the pocket and tack up more of the double teams has really freed Peppers up. In addition, they have also started shifting him between the L and R tackle spots more this year.

Regardless of why though, he is having a great year and it's nice to see him get his props!

29 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

1. Compare Urlacher's DL to Al Wilson's in DEN. Al has never had a dominant DL in Denver and therefore has not put up sexy numbers like Urlacher, Zach Thomas, and Ray Lewis have been able to produce with Defenses designed to funnel plays right to the tackling machines.

The Year Urlacher lost Ted Washington, 2003, he was less than stellar. And he heard about it too.

2. Peppers is an unreal DE talent. Seymour is an unreal DT/3-4 DE talent. Champ Bailey is the most complete CB in the league. All 3 would repeat their performance no matter where they played.

Urlacher is a superior athlete on a defense designed from the inside out. Stick him in DEN and he is not even talked about as DPOY. His production would mirror Al Wilson's. Conversely, stick Al Wilson in CHI defense at MLB and his number's would be eerily similar.

3. Great insight MJK, I concur with that assessment.

4. Check out DEN's DVOA on #1 WR's.

Then Ask yourself how that Happens with Champ Bailey allowing only 5 receptions, having two offensive Pass interference's committed against him, 2 Passes defensed, and two INT's in just 12 targeted plays.

Answer: check out how poorly Darrent Williams and Dominique Foxworth have performed against those same #1 WR's
as teams move them around.

30 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

#21 - Does Peppers line up at LE because he's their best pass rusher, or because he's not a liability in the run game? Strahan was drafted primarily as a run stuffer, and didn't really learn to rush the QB much until his 3rd year in the league. RE seems more of a pure speed position, whereas LE requires more power and awareness.

32 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Peppers his first year was used primarily as a pass rushing, full-time DE. The big knock on him were teh same knocks as on Freeney. Athletic, fast, can rush the passer, and can be run over.

In the 2003 SB, you can see Peppers on running plays being manhandled by TE Daniel Graham.

The year after though, he bulked up a bit and became a much more complete DE. He's still not as good of a run stopper as a pass rusher, but he's an exceptional pass rusher and his game against the run went from mediocre to pretty good.

33 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

29 - I'm beginning to sound a bit homerish in my defense of Urlacher, but the Tampa 2 is not designed around the MLB. In fact, it's designed around the WLB (Briggs). For instance, in Tampa, it was all about Derrick Brooks (the WLB). The MLB in the Tampa 2 is not a glamor position, perhaps because the MLB has more significant coverage responsibilities.
Note, I'm not disagreeing with you about putting Peppers, Seymour, and Bailey above Urlacher in any rankings. Peppers and Bailey, in particular, are just obscenely good from what I've seen this year. Seymour has looked a little meh when I've seen him this year, but I haven't paid much attention in the past.
Also, you don't think the return of Jenkins and the signing of Kemo may have helped Peppers a bit? The only player on the field that truly ever plays on an island is the CB.

34 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

33. Nate, a lot of the lack of *flash* with Seymour is that his responsibilities are different. In a 4-3, the Ends are essentially pass rushers. Their job is to get through the line, and get to whoever has the ball.

The DE on a 3-4, on the other hand, has varying responsibilities depending on what the linebackers are doing. If the OLB on his side is blitzing, the DE's job is to not only take up 2 blockers, but to keep them in place, so that the OLB is either 1 on 1 with a RB, or has an open route to the QB. Basically, anytime Colvin gets a sack, or Seau gets a sack, Seymour was responsible for it.

35 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Nate in 33:

That is true of the Tampa 2 in a strict Philosophy sense. But nothing works just as designed and Having the most dominant overall DL in Football free's Urlacher from deeper drops. This allows him to do two things better:

1. Close faster than other MLB's in the same scheme on Draws, Screens, and dumpoffs.

2. Support the running game more aggresively.

BTW, I think Urlacher is the most purely talented MLB in the league. However, he is so dominant to the average fan because he is surrounded by great talent that you have to account for as a coordinator. The combination of being a great player amongst great players makes him look so awesome.

36 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Peppers has been lining up and dropping into coverage for years. It's not a new wrinkle. He is doing the standard step up and take away the quick slant that DE's must do in order to prevent the easy quick catches. I agree that he is so good rushing that it is a shame to drop him in coverage, but it is necesary.

Also, he is a monster against the run. Early in his career it seemed that he cold be overpowered at the point of the attack. Now he just slips through and makes the tackle or strings it along to the out of bounds. He will blow up running plays coming his way for losses so much that it isn't worth it.

37 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

My thoughts on multiple points/questions made so far:

1. MDS: James Anderson is a rookie OLB, not a defensive back, as the article states. It's a minor point, but one worth mentioning.

2. Peppers generally lines up at left defensive end, but Mike Trgovac has been moving Peppers over to RDE when Al Wallace comes in to spell starting RDE Mike Rucker. Wallace assumes the LDE spot of Peppers.

3. Peppers doesn't need Seymour playing inside to create an extremely dominant defensive line. Peppers needs DT Kris Jenkins to be the all-pro he was in 2002 and 2003 before his shoulder and ACL injuries of 2004 and 2005. Jenkins had the strength and size needed to command all of the double teams before his injury. If 2006 Peppers could play with 2003 Jenkins, they would terrorize opposing QBs and RBs.

4. Urlacher played well Monday night, no doubt, but shouldn't a MLB make at least 19 tackles when the opposing team calls the same HB dive up the middle 36 times? Urlacher even said that no one was blocking him. If Urlacher was being double-teamed or held 80% of the time, you'd never again hear his name. Think of Ray Lewis's claim last year that 'being blocked' isn't part of his gameplan.

5. When thinking of some of Peppers all-time best plays, a few come to mind that no other DE in the league could make:
-Peppers ran down Tampa Bay RB Michael Pittman from behind on a 68 yard screen pass to save a certain TD. He also blocked a FG, recorded a sack, and had a 46 yard return for a TD on an interception in the same game.
-Peppers ran across the field to knock Jake Plummer out of bounds at the 1 yard line as Plummer tried to bootleg/scramble for a TD in Denver. On the very next play, Peppers dropped into coverage on a zone blitz, intercepted Plummer's pass in the end zone and returned it nearly 100 yards. He was only caught because he ran out of oxygen in the mile-high air and fell down inside the 5-yard-line.
-In the playoffs last year, Peppers dove and fully extended his body horizontally to hit Thomas Jones's arm inside the one yard line to force a fumble that kept Jones from scoring a TD at the pylon.
-Peppers grabbed a Mike Vick fumble out of mid-air with one hand while in full stride and took it back 60 yards for a TD.
-In a 2003 game versus the Cowboys, Peppers ran down Joey Galloway from behind to save a TD.

38 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

agree, Jerry, Peppers gets mugged often. It's one thing to see a guy inside get grabbed by the jersey and controlled, Peppers gets held outside and by the back shoulder. And if you're looking for more than 15 Panther fans, check out my name's link.

As for questions about Peppers at left end - for one, Mike Rucker was established at RDE and was twice D player of the month across from JP. Two, John Fox felt that Peppers could bulk up, and that his natural side was the left side. Most were skeptical but it's worked out. JP only goes to RDE in the occasional 3-3 nickel, but did face Bryant McKinnie in the base D v/s MN and forced both a sack and a holding penalty.

39 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Peppers is great, but Urlacher is my new favorite defender after his "well, they weren't blocking me" comment on Monday night. So refreshing to have a defender not claim to have been double and triple-teamed on every play.

40 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

I thought offenses were allowed to hold good DE's these days. It's all part of "protecting the QB". You know, right up there with DB's getting flagged for the slightest brush when WR's get to push off almost to their heart's content, and defenders getting flagged for hitting the QB in the head, below the thigh, with their head, with their shoulder if they do it hard, with their legs, or (in last week's Bengals game) even if they make perfectly legal tackles. After all, we need to protect these QB's. Of course we need to allow offenses to hold a player like Peppers. He's so good he might actually get a sack despite all the offense-favoring rules, and we can't have that. That would decrease scoring and therefore make the game less exciting.

41 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Ya' know what? I'm almost at the point where I'm willing to say that offensive lineman should be allowed to hold, as long as they are required to wear some sort of thumbless mitten or something that prevented them from using their hands to grasp. Yeah, they would be using their arms to latch onto guys all day long, but without the ability to actually grab with their hands, the defensive linemen perhaps could fend them off, and we wouldn't have such wildly inconsistent officiating determining the outcome of games.

42 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Will, I've heard of football coaches having players wear boxing gloves in practice for various drills in which they want to make sure no holding is going on. Seems like a cool idea.

43 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

#37: Let's not get too carried away here. Peppers does not run down Joey Galloway unless Joey is stutter-stepping or juking or otherwise not moving at full speed. That receiver is fast! This doesn't take away any of Peppers' other accomplishments, of course; he is an amazing athlete, just not the fastest man in football.

44 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

I really think the more consistently called games that might result would more than overcome any negative effects, and anything that would reduce penalty delays should be considered. Yeah, the offensive linemen would have a tougher time recovering fumbles, and it would be almost impssible to use an offensive tackle in a goal line, receiver/rb role, but that's a minor sacrifice.

45 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

That would decrease scoring and therefore make the game less exciting.

Well, the purists would undoubtedly disagree. But personally, I think that very low scoring games are usually not particularly exciting. (Neither are scorefests, though.)

Not that I think that offensive holding should be allowed... the boxing gloves idea is a good one. But things do have to be slanted towards offense enough to prevent narcolepsy in significant others who already have to be bribed to go watch the game... :-P

46 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

41: My only issue with that would be when a lineman drops back into coverage, their ability to make a play on the ball would be greatly hindered. Other than that, holding should be legal since it occurs on damn near every play and is called seemingly randomly.

47 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Re: 41, 42, 44, 45

The fact that mittens or boxing-type gloves would create difficulty in recovering fumbles is a major consideration, not a minor one. Such a requirement I think would significantly increase turnovers. In addition, the center couldn't possibly be forced to wear such a device. Also, in my experience, bending fingers helps blocking. You can curve or cup your hand around a defender without holding him in a way that helps you block, and boxing gloves in particular would make that impossible. I agree that holding and the inconsistent calling of it is a problem, but I don't think that this is a practical solution.

48 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

I remember when Spurrier made all of his receivers wear those boxing gloves. It didn't pan out too well.

At least, that's what I assume happened.

49 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

OK, who were acknowledged as the two most dominant defensive players ever? Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor. Both could stop your gameplan not simply reduce its yardage.

50 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

CA, does anybody really know how frequently offensive linemen recover fumbles? In any case, I don't think such a device would completely negate the ability of an offensive linemen to recover fumbles, although it would certainly hamper it quite a bit.

Of course, centers would have to be excluded, but that doesn't render the idea without value. Yes, bending fingers helps blocking, but we have seen many offensive linemen play effectively with a hand taped into a club shape, due to injury, and if they could latch with their arms above the waist without penalty, it may be a tradeoff which doesn't harm offensive performance, vastly improves the consistency of officiating, and improves the flow of the game.

51 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Taylor's greatest disruptiveness came as an edge pass rusher, much more akin to a defensive end pass rushing, than to anything an inside linebacker does.

52 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

OK, who were acknowledged as the two most dominant defensive players ever? Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor. Both could stop your gameplan not simply reduce its yardage.

I personally put Bruce Smith above Reggie White, but I've already fought that battle many times and have never won.

53 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Mike Brown has surgery to repair ligament damage on right foot, may be done for year.

Link from name.

54 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

I think the gloves are a great idea. Offensive linemen shouldn't be grabbing a fumble anyhow. They need to cover it with their bodies and cradle it with their arms. A linemen trying to grab a fumble with his hand almost always misses the recovery.

Why hasn'tthis idea been introduced? Is the rules committee so busy trying to end the horror of endzone celebrations that they don't have time for sensible ideas?

55 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

just a sidenote, James Anderson is a rookie LB out of Va Tech (3rd round this year) as opposed to a defensive back, which explains his inability to cover Todd Heap

anyways, great analysis

56 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

If the offense has two players assigned to pass block Peppers but he drops into coverage, he has still created blitzing and pass rush oppertunities for the other side of the defense, but Carolina can keep 7 players in coverage.

57 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

"OK, who were acknowledged as the two most dominant defensive players ever? Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor. Both could stop your gameplan not simply reduce its yardage."

I'll give you Reggie White as the most dominant defensive lineman. Dick Butkus was probably the most dominant defensive PLAYER of all time. LT exemplified an entire generation of passing rushing outside linebackers while Butkus and White were singular players who simply could not be emulated.

To Mannie Fresh: Please don't bring up Mark Anderson in a conversation with Julius Peppers. The league is full of lineman who can do one thing well, and it's not even a given that Anderson is a GREAT pass rusher. Plenty of average players have had hot streaks of 5-6 games, even as rookies. Both Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunlaye are more complete players than Anderson, who is more of a KGB/poor man's Dwight Freeney at this point.

The closest comparable lineman on the Bears in terms of sheer physical talent and ability to dominate a game is Tommie Harris. That's the guy I tend to watch all game as a Bears fan, because he does things that I literally haven't seen from a DT since Reggie White used to rotate inside. You can't directly compare Harris and Peppers because they play different positions, in different defenses, and are asked to do different things, but I find them very similar in the the fact that they can disrupt every aspect of the game, alone.

The guy I *used* to watch the most is Urlacher, and I'm kind of up in the air on him. I think a lot of people talk about him based on what they heard rather than what they've seen. The guy does a very good job of blowing up lead blockers, which used to be the knock on him. As for avoiding linemen and taking himself out of a play, it's a gap control scheme. Most plays he has a particular gap to cover, so while it may look like he's dodging a block and taking himself out of the play, he's usually just waiting until the last second to show what gap he's covering. If he were in the old defensive scheme with 2 enormous DTs, where he was just asked to go and make plays, he'd have insane numbers, but most often he's asked to drop into coverage, sometimes taking the deep middle third of the field in a pseudo cover 3 scheme.

That said, his tackling has been pretty suspect the last year or so. Some games he's quite solid and other games (against Pittsburg, first half against the Cards, against the Vikings) he's been pretty poor. He gets caught diving a lot, when a player with his speed and instincts should be able to get into a good tackling position. Not only can he get run over by power runners like Bettis, but you saw on Monday, he can end up grasping at air against quick players like Anquan Boldin or Steve Smith. Of course a lot of people end up in the same situations, but Urlacher is not "a lot of people."

You can tell just how valuable he is though, since the defense pretty much goes the way he goes. Good play from Urlacher usually means good play from the D.

All of that said, if I were starting a franchise and my choice was between Urlacher and Peppers purely based on what they bring to the field, I'd take Peppers. You can't find another player who can do what either of them can do, but you can find a lot more players who can at least come close to what Urlacher does.

59 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Referring way back to the post about NBC picking its games, they have to give not less than 12 days notice of the games that they want to pick. CBS and FOX supposedly have protected four each so far, with one more to come later in the fall. There are unconfirmed reports that one game that has already been selected by NBC is Bears-Giants in week 10.

60 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Yes, Yes, Yes

Offensive lineman should all wear mittens.

With strings attached running through their jerseys so they can't lose them.

Don't look so tough now Mr Big Tough Lineman.

61 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Could they design a glove that would give you flexibility with your fingers and thumb but would prevent you from closing your fist beyond a "C" radius, making it much harder to hold?

62 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

#60 - I think the string is an even better idea than the mittens - this way, the lineman can't extend both arms at the same time far enough to hold. (Of course, it would probably have to be a kevlar rope or somesuch, but the principle still holds).

Plus, all the players should be made to wear wool sweaters if they want to play outside in the winter. Preferably sweaters with little reindeer on them.

And if anybody decides to lick the uprights when it's cold, they should be made to stand there for the rest of the game.

63 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

All right, all right, laugh if you wish.....at least I didn't suggest that hot cocoa be served to players on really cold days. Hey, if the aesthetics are a concern, the league office could simply by fiat declare that every offensive lineman except center has two broken hands, or better yet, order that their hands actually be broken. Then, when they took the field with their hands wrapped into padded clubs, everyone could marvel at their toughness! So there.

64 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers


I actually think the glove idea has some merit especially if it could stop guards holding Tommie Harris on every play.

65 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Just change the rule itself to allow the holds that the refs generally "let you get away with" and put an emphasis on it to promote uniformity.

Really, drastic solutions are rarely what's needed. Except maybe a recodification of the rules. That would probably help.

66 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

at least I didn’t suggest that hot cocoa be served to players on really cold days.

Hey, that's a great idea! (Michael Vick sure could have used it in Chicago last year). I think the league's got some sort of deal with Chunky soup, though.

67 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Geeze, wasn't Vick's (non)performance at Soldier field about the most pathetic thing you've ever seen in the NFL by an ostensible superstar? If Vick we're told about the outdoor Vikings in the Bud Grant era, when Grant would forbid gloves and sideline heaters in sub-zero temperatures, Vick would probably faint.

68 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

58: There is no theory of evolution. Just a list of animals Julius Peppers allows to live.

Just a few comments... first, tackles ARE a relevant stat. You don't pile up a crazy number if you're a bad player. That's not to say it's the be-all end-all, but getting yourself to the play and stopping it a large number of times is an indicator of ability. Obviously other things influence it, such as system, but 19 tackles really is a crazy amount.

Second, I think dropping Peppers into coverage is a very good thing to do. With his freakish speed and leaping ability, he's pretty good at it, and it helps break up constant double teams, I would think. It certainly has paid dividends in the form of interceptions and passes defensed. I agree it's not something to be overused, however.

(One more just for fun:)
Julius Peppers does not sleep. He waits.

70 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Teams run at Peppers' side of the ball like every left defensive end. Its not because he is weak against the run. Teams are right-handed when it comes to running. If Peppers' continues at this pace he WILL win defensive player of the year.

71 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

While this is a nice article and interesting discussion, I just can't read any EPC based on someone being underrated without hoping Anthony Ragano is still reading. I can't believe it's been two years already. Deal with it a-hole.

72 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Watching a game earlier this year, not a Panthers' game, Ed Hochuli had thrown a flag for holding, then picked it up. He explained that the defender was "powering through" so it was not holding. I don't see that in the NFL rule book but is that the new spin they've put on the holding calls this year? lol Any good DE and most assuredly Peppers will be powering through.

In this year's game with Cleveland, Peppers was rushing to the side of Frye and saw him looking to the end zone cause Peppers changed direction and sprinted to the end zone (about 15 yards) and ended up being the one to break up the TD pass cause Minter and Gamble were behind the WR. That's what Julius Peppers brings to the game and that's why he's better each year: his fast, intuitive recognition of game play. It's only going to get better. :)

73 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Julius Peppers sold his soul to the devil. That's the only explanation. People game-plan against the man, and he still disrupts every game. I would love to see Peppers vs. Antonio Gates in a one on one basketball game.

74 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

73: Peppers would destroy him, no joke. He's got 3", 20-30 pounds, and he played PF at UNC instead of Kent State. He's just as fast too. That would make for great TV though... basketball should definitely be a part of Battle of the Gridiron Stars.

75 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

One stat that any Panther fan can tell you(it was mentioned in the article) is that Pep is one of the most held defensive players in the league but they NEVER call it

76 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

All this talk about dropping Julius Peppers into coverage and no mention of his INT's. Year before last at Denver, Jake Plummer fakes left and rolls right from the Carolina 2, fooled everyone. Peppers adjusts and beats him to the sideline before he can round the corner and score. The very next play, he drops into coverage and intercepts Plummer in his own end-zone and runs it back 97 yards, and the only thing that brought him down was he was out of gas, no one on the Denver offense caught him, WR's included. He's a freak, and there is no more complete player in the NFL, on offense or defense. The only thing I don't like about him, he played basketball for the Tarheels. Seeing him dunk was an awesome sight, though.

78 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

As much as this 19-tackle game is getting talked about, Dan Morgan officially had 18 in SB 38, and the Panthers' staff credited him with 25 tackles!!! That's ridiculous, and the stage could never have been bigger.

80 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

I agree. For his own sake I hope he retires, but in his first season I thought Dan Morgan looked like he was on his way to becoming one of the elite linebackers in the league.

83 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

During Christmas Julius Peppers reverses the earths rotation allowing Santa to deliver presents to all boys and girls....

84 Re: Every Play Counts: Julius Peppers

Um, Willie Anderson of the Bengals seems to have handled Peppers single-handedly. Willie did not even have help on vast majority of plays---he was one on one. Of course Peppers is great; but the best in the league on OL can stop him or at least quiet him.