With all of the negativity that has been surrounding the defense of the Chicago Bears in recent weeks, there has been one player that has actually been improving as the season has worn on, and his performance Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings was just one more example of a guy rounding back into his normal form.
That player is Julius Peppers, and he was all over the field on Sunday. On the first series of the day, Peppers got a great jump on a designed blitz and ended up drilling Christian Ponder for a sack on third down to force the Vikings into punting. He picked up another sack after the Bears had to waste a challenge on a non-catch by Jerome Simpson, and he forced the Vikings to punt again on that one.
At the end of the day, Peppers had racked up two and a half sacks and five tackles on the afternoon, and even though all of those plays came in a losing effort, the athleticism and ability to adapt to different methods of attack was a sight to see for Bears fans used to seeing him bottled up for the most part this season.
Yes, he had shown flashes of coming around before, like in his excellent performance in Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it has only been in the last three or four games that Peppers has truly found his groove. In the Bears’ Week 11 victory over the Baltimore Ravens, Peppers piled up 11 tackles in that game, and had one series in particular that showed off all of his skills.
He tackled RB Ray Rice in the backfield for a loss, and on the very next play he got a great jump off the snap and ended up drawing a holding penalty. Then to top everything off, he sacked Joe Flacco on second down to force the Ravens into a third-and-long situation, and by the end of the drive he had the fans at Soldier Field roaring their approval.
Week 12 represented a bit of a step back for Peppers, as he only had one tackle in the game, but it wasn’t exactly a good day for any of the Bears’ linemen in that one. Often Peppers found himself double-teamed at the line because of the ineffective play of Corey Wootton on the opposite end, and without Stephen Paea in the middle to help divert the attention of the guards, Peppers simply couldn’t overcome the intense attention paid to him.
Despite that bit of a hiccup, Sunday’s performance against the Vikings was still a great step in the right direction for the defensive end. Coordinator Mel Tucker did a tremendous job of varying attack angles for Peppers in this game, and if that duo can continue to design and execute those kinds of moves, then they could cause issues in their remaining four games.