Chicago Bears: Is It Time to Worry About Julius Peppers and the Defensive Line?
The Chicago Bears are 2-0 and have the majority of their fans believing that they will once again be a playoff participant.
Their offense has looked much more fluid than in years past and Jay Cutler has been big when it counts as he has lead the Bears on winning touchdown drives to finish games each of the first two weeks.
Of course it helps when you have an offensive line that can keep you upright for more than three seconds. The line is still coming together, but they have been huge early on this season, allowing only one sack through the first two weeks.
As advertised, they have also spread the ball around the field, using Matt Forte much more often out of the backfield and utilizing their newfound weapon from the tight end position, Martellus Bennett. Who knew that having a legitimate threat from the tight end position could make such a difference? It's quite a revelation.
However, despite the fast start from the offense, there are some concerns on the defensive side of the ball, particularly on the defensive line.
Through two games, the D-line has accumulated a total of two sacks—one by Corey Wootton and a half sack each for Shea McClellin and Stephen Paea. Which means that the two guys who have All-Pro status on their resume, Julius Peppers and Henry Melton, have yet to register a sack.
Peppers has actually only accounted for one tackle through two games, and his lack of production has some people concerned. One person who isn't troubled is teammate Lance Briggs, who said, "I'm not concerned, one thing I'm not worried about is Julius Peppers."
Head coach Marc Trestman also didn't seem overly worried about Peppers' lack of production thus far, citing a recent illness as a factor in his subpar performance against the Minnesota Vikings.
"He was not healthy (Sunday). He was probably sicker (Sunday) than he was the two previous days. He wouldn't say it. But in his defense, I don't know that he had the energy to play as hard as he could possibly play," Trestman told Dan Weiderer of the Chicago Tribune.
The fact is that Peppers didn't play many snaps in the preseason and was obviously ill heading into Week 2, so it's easy to give him a pass thus far, but if he doesn't produce much this week against a struggling Pittsburgh offensive line, then it may be time to worry.
However, it hasn't only been Peppers who isn't producing. As I stated earlier, the entire line has only produced two sacks to this point and hasn't even applied much pressure.
How concerned are you about Peppers and the Bears defensive line?
Consequently, the Bears defense is currently tied with the St. Louis Rams for the worst third-down conversion rate at 52 percent (14 of 27). Bears Insider John Mullin had this to say about the Bears' third-down issues:
Two games do not a season make, but that is worse than any two-game stretch of third downs in more than two years and the worst since the Bears combined for 18 of 33 conversions in back-to-back 2010 games against Detroit (win) and New England (loss). Three times last year the Bears allowed 14 third-down conversions over two games but never for more than 50 percent combined.
And while Trestman isn't all that concerned about Peppers up to this point, he did express some concern over the defense's inability to get off the field on third downs. “We’ve got to continue to improve our third-down conversion rate. We put the (Minnesota) game in (quarterback Christian) Ponder’s hands, and he did a good job, particularly on breaking contain on a couple of occasions,” Trestman said.
As I mentioned earlier, Peppers and company do have a chance to get things going this week against a Pittsburgh offensive line that has had problems of its own. According to 670 The Score's Dan Durkin, Pittsburgh is allowing a sack for every 10 dropbacks, which means that the Bears should have some opportunities on Sunday night to get to Ben Roethlisberger.
Durkin also noted that Pittsburgh is averaging an AFC-low 2.4 yards per attempt on the ground, which should allow the Bears to put more emphasis on getting to Roethlisberger and slowing down the passing game.
Let's hope so.
The Bears are 2-0 and sit alone atop the NFC North, but if they want to stay there, they are going to need more from their defense and certainly more from their defensive line. Again, two games doesn't make a season, but the lack of pressure and inability to stop third-down conversions are trends that can't continue if they want to be serious playoff contenders.
Peppers should be healthy going into Sunday night's game against Pittsburgh, and all eyes will be on him and his D-line mates to see if they can finally get things going.
After all, Jay Cutler can only lead so many fourth-quarter comebacks, right?
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