Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers started off the 2012 season on a strong note, but his play has tapered off as of late. Peppers started off the first two games of the season with two sacks over the first three games and added five QB pressures.
Over the last three games, Peppers has half a sack and zero hits on the QB. This marks the low point of his pass-rushing production with the Bears. By comparison, when Peppers went without a sack during the 2011 season, he would rack up no less than two QB pressures per game.
So the question now becomes as the season wears on: Is Peppers' plantar fasciitis getting worse? The pain caused by this foot ailment is something that will nag him the rest of the season, and it seems to be effecting his production.
Peppers has played at a high level throughout his tenure in Chicago, but over the last three games, his production has decreased. Age doesn't seem to be a factor as much as the nagging injuries that seem to be slowing one of the premier pass-rushers in the game.
Corey Wootton during that same time has stepped up his play in far less snaps than Peppers. Wootton excelled in the Jacksonville game, racking up two sacks, one hit and two QB pressures in just 13 pass-rushing snaps.
Wootton also changed the entire momentum of the game with one huge forced fumble. With the Jaguars deep in Chicago territory, threatening to score to take a 10-3, Wootton burst around the edge sacking QB Blaine Gabbert and knocking the ball out.
That turnover completely halted the momentum the Jaguars had on offense early in the first half.
On defense, the Bears pass rush has been almost non-existent over the last two games. In the first three weeks, the front four was racking up numerous sacks, hits and pressures. Only a good game by Wootton last week and Henry Melton the week before has kept the pass rush from being down right anemic.
The hope is that with a week off, Peppers can come back fresh and ready for the stretch run of the season. On the other hand, if the pain starts to affect his play again, the Bears may want to consider limiting his pass rushing snaps and increasing Wootton's snaps.
Wootton has proven that he plays like a poor man's Julius Peppers. Wootton has ideal size at 6'6", 270 lbs. and the strength and speed off the edge to go with that length and weight combination.
The Bears pass rush may not be able to play at the high level it did to start the season, but it needs to develop a higher level of consistency after the bye-week. The Bears figure to be 7-1 entering the toughest part of their schedule, back-to-back showdowns with two teams favored to play in the Super Bowl at the start of the season, the Texans and 49ers.