Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Stock Watch: Waiting on Peppers
By Jeff Dickerson
Julius Peppers had one tackle against the Saints and has just one sack this season.
1. Alshon Jeffery, WR: Jeffery tops the list for the second straight week after catching 10 passes for a franchise-record 218 yards and one touchdown in Week 5. He now leads the team with 429 yards receiving and is second on the club in receptions (28) and touchdown catches (two). Jeffery is a steal financially with a base salary of $596,719 and salary cap number of $1,039,023. Under contract through 2015, Jeffery protects the Bears in the event the organization is unable to come to terms with Brandon Marshall on a new deal or after the 2014 season when Marshall's contract is set to expire. Jeffery has all the makings of a future NFL No. 1 wide receiver, and he's a draft pick the Bears have been able to develop.
2. Lance Briggs, LB: The fourth quarter neutral zone infraction nonwithstanding, Briggs had a monster game against the Saints with 15 total tackles, one sack and four tackles for loss. Briggs was all over the field in the losing effort, delivering several hard hits from his weakside linebacker position. Briggs ranks first on the Bears' defense with 55 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks (tied with middle linebacker D.J. Williams). All three Bears linebackers have played well this season, but none more so than Briggs, who appears headed to his eighth Pro Bowl berth, barring an injury.
3. Shea McClellin, DE: The Bears continue to lack a consistent pass rush, but McClellin did have his best game of the season against New Orleans with three tackles and one tackle for loss. McClellin was able to generate pressure on Drew Brees, but failed to finish when he reached the quarterback. Still, McClellin made progress in the 26-18 loss to the Saints. McClellin is effective when he lines up in a two-point stance. The problem doesn't seem to be McClellin's athletic ability or raw talent, rather his fit in this defense as a 4-3 defensive end seems questionable at best. However, McClellin gave maximum effort on Sunday, and if he just finished some of those rushes, he would have made a major impact on the outcome.
1. Julius Peppers, DE: With injuries piling up on the Bears defensive line, they need Peppers to dominate, but that's not happening. He had one tackle against the Saints. Yes, Brees gets rid of the ball quickly, and Peppers is a marked man heading into every game, but a player who eats up $14,387,533 of a team's salary cap space (even after the renegotiation)) is expected to be more of a factor. The Bears will continue to surrender big plays in the passing game unless they find a way to hit the quarterback. Of Peppers' 112.5 career regular season sacks, only one has come in 2013. That's not good enough. Teams need to lean on their superstars when times are tough. Peppers is the one of the highest paid players on the team. It's time for him to deliver.
2. Chris Conte and Major Wright, S: Both are doing a nice job in run support, but the safeties are having problems with their pass coverage. Conte has been unable to provide adequate help over the top on deep balls for reasons unknown. The breakdowns have been rather obvious over the last couple of weeks and needs to be corrected. Conte should be able to rebound given his immense talent, but surely even he would admit that he hasn't played his best yet this season. Wright was in perfect position on a deep ball to Jimmy Graham on Sunday but he failed to make a play. Wright is very up and down. On certain plays, he looks like an above-average safety. Other times, he whiffs on tackles or gets burned in deep coverage. With Wright set to be a free agent and with Conte signed through 2014, it will be interesting to see how the Bears address the safety position in the offseason.
3. Blitz recognition: There are too many individuals involved to narrow the list down to one player or one coach. Bears coach Marc Trestman said on Monday that his team's slow start in Week 5 was one of the main reasons the Bears came up short against the Saints. That sluggish start on offense can be directly attributed to the Bears' inability to figure out New Orleans' defensive pressure and where it was coming from. That's on the offensive line, the quarterback, Trestman and the rest of the coaching staff. The good news is the Bears made the necessary adjustments and eventually figured it out (that probably doesn't happen last season), but the damage had already been done.