Among the collective consciousness of Carolina Panther fans there seem to be two players who have firmly cemented themselves as public enemies no.1 and no.1-A during this recent slump; I am talking, of course, about Julius Peppers and Jake Delhomme.
On the surface, it is clear why these players are garnering so much attention. Quarterbacks always have their feet in the fire and are expected to perform each and every week; as for Julius Peppers, his crime is being regarded around the league as our standout player, and difference maker on defense, but one who is wildly inconsistent.
Delhomme has made some measured improvement, moving from absolutely horrible in week one, to passable as we sit in the bye week. Julius, however, made some big plays against the Eagles when the game was unwinnable, and has since disappeared, thus fans want answers for this lack of production. Is it the offseason issues? Is it because he doesn't want to play here? Is he trying to force a trade? Is it all of the above?
Yesterday on WFNZ Michael Lombardi said of Julius Peppers:
He's a great sack guy, but not a great pressure guy... and you need a great pressure guy.
I found this statement curious. Oftentimes the argument to defend Julius Peppers is centered on explaining how much pressure he gets that doesn't result in sacks. We have not seen this pressure from Julius this season, and it was interesting to see a respected NFL analyst typify Peppers as little more than a sack machine.
What I am going to be looking at is comparing Peppers' performance against the Eagles, Falcons and Cowboys to other defensive ends (or in the case of 3-4 defenses look at the ROLB who is primary pass rusher) and see how they faired against these teams to form a crude, rudimentary ‘performance average' and see if Julius Peppers met that performance average, exceeded it, or fell flat. This is the opportunity to give him the benefit of the doubt, so for the sake of this piece I will not be talking about his contract... this is purely an analysis of on field performance.
Julius Peppers' performance: 5 Tackles, 1 Sck, 2 PDef, 1 FF
Overall Performance Average: 2.6 tackles, 0.33 Sck, 0.66 PDef, 0.33 FF
Peppers vs. Eagles: Vastly outperformed the performance average against Philadelphia. Julius doubled the number of tackles, had a third more than the average number of passes defended and had sacks and forced fumbles to the factor of three. He did his job, and more against Philadelphia.
Julius Peppers' performance: 2 Tackles
Overall Performance Average: 1.3 Tackles, 0.33 Sck
Peppers vs. Falcons: Clearly, teams are having problems getting to Matt Ryan from a statistical standpoint. Atlanta have been utilizing 3 step drops thus far and ensuring the ball leaves Ryan's hand quickly. Despite only registering two tackles against Atlanta, Peppers exceeded the performance average for tackles and was only slightly behind the sacks total.
Julius Peppers' performance: 2 Tackles
Overall Performance Average: 1 Tackle
Peppers vs. Cowboys: Like Matt Ryan, teams are having a hard time getting their traditional pass rushers to Tony Romo. Thomas Davis had great success against Dallas because he gave them an untraditional look as a rusher. Peppers again exceeded the performance average as dictated by other DE's around the league.
What does this all mean?
In short, Pepper's performance is exceeding the rest of the league against these teams. I know it is strange to read that, as I found it just as curious while compiling the data. However, when you average out the performances by each player the same or similar position as Julius Peppers it becomes clear that he's actually playing pretty well against these teams.
Panther fans are used to seeing big, dominant numbers from Peppers, and when he doesn't perform to expectation then we get emotional and are rightfully concerned. He is considered one of the top DE's in the league, so we should be seeing those numbers... right? The truth is there are so many other factors to consider, offensive scheming, play calling, blocking schemes and more. Though it appears Julius is getting taken out of plays a lot and not making any noise on the right side, from a purely statistical standpoint he is exceeding the play of other at his position against these same teams.
I will be continuing to analyze the play of Julius Peppers each week in the Monday Morning Optimist, continuing to look at his performance from week to week and comparing it to the overall performance average (OPA) against said team. I have been vocally critical of Julius Peppers play this season, but after looking at these numbers, maybe we should all give him a second chance; at least for now.