If anybody knows how much of a force Julius Peppers is when he plays like he's capable of, it's Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
In week one of last season at Soldier Field, Peppers dislocated Stafford's shoulder on a sack in a 19-14 Bears win. Stafford would not return to game action until Halloween of '10, and re-aggravated the injury in the following game.
Stafford's healthy this season, and he's playing like the quarterback the Lions hoped they were getting when they selected him with the #1 overall pick in the 2009 draft. He's tossed 11 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions, has a 62.1 completion percentage, and a 100.4 QB rating.
However, so far this season, Peppers hasn't played quite as well as he did last year(and that's difficult to do do anyway because he was arguably the best defensive player in the NFL last year). Yes, he has two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and blocked a field goal last week against the Panthers.
But, he hasn't been putting as much pressure on the quarterback as he usually does. The Bears need him to be in the backfield and disrupting Stafford many times if they want to win tonight. Chris Harris is active after missing the last three games and will start at safety, which will be a nice boost to a secondary that's looked bad in the games he missed. However, if Stafford gets time to throw, he will pick the secondary apart, and Megatron will likely put up another double-digit touchdown game(something he's done in every game already).
A great pass rush will hide flaws in the secondary, and Peppers is without question the key to the Bears' pass rush. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli doesn't want to have to blitz Stafford much; he wants the front four to generate pressure. Getting pressure from the front four keeps the linebackers and defensive in their usual coverage assignments, and gives them a better chance to slow down Megatron. If Marinelli has to dial up the blitz from linebackers or defensive backs, receivers are going to be open, and you don't want that against a Lions passing attack that is on fire right now.
So, let's hope Peppers can get a sack or two, and at least get Stafford uncomfortable in the pocket.
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