The signing of five-time Pro Bowl pick Julius Peppers to a six-year contract gives the Bears’ defense the bite to reclaim its spot at the top of the NFC North.
The enigmatic defensive end undoubtedly is one of the top pass rushers in the game, and his presence along the Bears’ front line will dramatically improve their defensive performance in 2010.
Peppers, who has amassed 81 sacks during an eight-year NFL career, is an electrifying athlete with outstanding speed and quickness. He possesses one of the more explosive first steps off the ball, and his uncanny body control allows him to routinely slip past blockers off the edge. Though some scouts question his motor and intensity at times, Peppers’ outstanding production as a sack artist makes it hard to justify their claims.
Peppers has registered double-digit sacks in six of his eight seasons, and his ability to put persistent pressure on the passer will dramatically improve a Bears defense that has fallen from grace since their Super Bowl appearance following the 2006 season.
The Bears ranked 17th in total defense last season, as the inconsistent pass rush allowed teams to repeatedly attack Chicago’s vulnerable secondary. The Bears allowed the fourth-most passing touchdowns in the league (29) and recorded just 13 interceptions. Although the coverage in the backend clearly was spotty, the lack of a consistent pass rush mightily contributed to their woes. The Bears tallied just 35 sacks and didn’t field one double-digit sack artist on the season.
For a Bears defense that plays an extensive amount of Tampa 2, the presence of a legitimate pass-rushing threat along the defensive line is critical. The defense is built upon the premise of creating pressure with the front four while using two-deep zone coverage behind the rush. Without a legitimate rusher along the line, quarterbacks enjoy too much time in the pocket and are routinely able to find the open areas in the coverage.
However, Peppers’ addition to Chicago’s lineup will force opponents to slide their protection in his direction, which should free up Tommie Harris and Alex Brown for one-on-one matchups.
It should be noted that Peppers has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success against his new division rivals. He destroyed Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie in a matchup last season, and he enjoyed a two-sack effort against the Packers in 2008. With both offensive lines remaining relatively intact, Peppers could be a dominant force in the NFC North.
With everyone in the building seemingly operating under a “win or else” ultimatum, the Bears are willing to gamble that Peppers’ impact will result in a division title.
– Bucky Brooks