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Thursday, October 14, 2010
D-Gaps: Peppers paying off in Chicago

By Jason Vida


AP Photo/Nell Redmond
Julius Peppers has paid immediate dividends for the Chicago Bears' defense.

Filling you in on what you may have missed on the "other" side of the ball last week.

Through five weeks, there’s no shortage of teams at or near the top of their divisions that were not expected to contend for much of anything in 2010. Here’s how three of them -- Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs -- have excelled defensively this season.

Peppers filling up stat sheet:
A pair of sacks in five games may not seem like enough to justify the six-year, $91 million contract, but Julius Peppers is having an effect on the Bears defense even when he’s not getting to the quarterback.

In addition to his two sacks, Peppers also has an interception and a pair of forced fumbles, making him the only player in the league this season with two sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.

Peppers is disrupting opposing passing attacks even when he’s not applying pressure. No defensive lineman has more pass breakups this season than Peppers’ four, and his four passes defensed matches the total from the entire Bears defensive line in 2009 (Anthony Adams, Gaines Adams, Alex Brown and Tommie Harris each had one).

Peppers is just one of the factors contributing to the better effort by the Bears defense thus far. (The return of Brian Urlacher and emergence of Israel Idonije have also helped.) After allowing 23.4 points per game last season, the Bears are surrendering just 14.8 in 2010, fifth-best in the league. Only one team, the Chiefs, has had a larger decrease in points per game allowed from 2009 to 2010. The Bears are also allowing fewer yards per game in 2010. One year after ranking 17th in the NFL in yards allowed, the Bears are currently sixth.

Buccaneers defense dominant after halftime
After finishing 3-13 in 2009, 10 games behind the division-winning New Orleans Saints in the NFC South, the Buccaneers are 3-1, with their only loss coming against a Pittsburgh Steelers team widely considered one of the league’s best.

The Bucs defense is receiving little credit for the team’s hot start. It’s easy to understand, too, when you consider the defense ranks near the middle of the league in both yards allowed (18th) and points per game (15th).

However, Tampa Bay’s defense has surrendered an NFL-low 21 points after halftime this season, which is one reason why the Buccaneers already have two wins when trailing at the half. All three of the Buccaneers wins in 2009 came when they trailed at halftime, giving Tampa Bay an NFL-best five wins over the last two seasons when down at the half.

This is more than a result of Tampa Bay simply trailing at halftime more often than other teams since the start of 2009. Over that span, the Bucs are 5-11 when down at half, the ninth-best record in the league.

Chiefs finally getting to quarterbacks
Just two seasons after setting NFL records for fewest sacks in a season (10 in 2008), the Chiefs pass rush has upgraded from awful to average. After finishing 31st in the league in sacks in 2009, the Chiefs currently are tied for 18th with nine.
Hali
Kansas City has been able to pressure the quarterback without exposing its young secondary. Eight of the nine Chiefs sacks this season have come with four pass rushers or fewer. Only six teams have sacked the quarterback more often without blitzing.

Much of the credit should go to Tamba Hali, who leads the team with 4 sacks, which is tied for seventh in the NFL. The last Chiefs player with more sacks through the first four games of a season was Derrick Thomas in 1998.