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Julius Peppers needs to show up against Vikings

Updated: September 12, 2013 6:23PM



This is a tough week for Julius Peppers.

Not only is the Bears’ eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end coming off arguably his least productive game in four seasons in Chicago, but Sunday’s game against the Vikings is another reminder that as great as Peppers is, he’s not Jared Allen.

Though the signing of Peppers as a free agent in 2010 has paid off for the Bears, Allen remains the post-Reggie White standard for acquiring a pass-rushing defensive end when you can’t draft and develop one.

Since being acquired in a trade with the Chiefs in 2008, Allen has averaged 14.8 sacks per season — with 14 1/2 in 2008 and 2009 and 22 in 2011. Peppers is one of the best defensive ends in the game. But Allen gets double-teamed, triple-teamed and chipped just like him and puts up even bigger numbers.

We get it that Peppers doesn’t need record-setting sack totals to be one of the best defensive ends in football. In his first season with the Bears in 2010, he was named a first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press despite having only eight sacks — the first defensive end to get that honor with single-digit sacks since sacks became an official stat in 1982.

We’ve learned that Peppers influences a game in many ways. He plays the run better than we thought. He hustles. He plays smart. He makes his teammates better. And he has a knack for big plays — fumbles, fumble recoveries and interceptions. And he doesn’t take plays off. On the contrary, he does whatever it takes to win.

That’s why Peppers’ production in last Sunday’s victory over the Bengals left people wondering if something’s wrong. Going up against a backup offensive tackle who had not started an NFL game since 2011, Peppers had one tackle. No sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hurries, batted passes or forced fumbles in 52 snaps. The only other game with less impact statistically as a Bear was last year against the Titans when the Bears won 51-20 and Peppers played only 38 snaps and could’ve taken the day off.

Peppers had 111/2 sacks, four fumble recoveries and 21 quarterback hurries last season. But at 33, after a game like he had Sunday, the first question to defensive coordinator Mel Tucker about Peppers after practice Wednesday was not surprising: Is he healthy?

‘‘Yes, he said he was fine, and I feel good about him moving forward,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘He came out [Wednesday], and it was a very, very focused practice; very, very focused meetings. The guys were dialed in. I feel like we’re ready to take those next steps to improve. That’s what we have to do.’’

What did the Bengals do to neutralize him?

‘‘They did a good job,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘They had a good game plan . . . a good coaching staff and some really good players. We all want to play better; that’s the mantra this week.’’

On film, does Peppers look like a different player?

‘‘No, I saw a guy that was playing within the defense, trying to do what he could to help us win,’’ Tucker said. ‘‘I thought he did a solid job with what we asked him to do. We’re going to ask more of everybody this week.’’

Tucker earnestly kept lumping Peppers in with everybody else on his defense when discussing the uneven effort against the Bengals. But it all starts with Peppers — especially with Brian Urlacher gone. Until another dominant factor develops, Peppers needs to create the chain reaction that makes the defensive line the irrepressible force that makes Lance Briggs a tackle machine and Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings Pro Bowl cornerbacks. Let Allen get his sacks. The Bears need Julius Peppers to be Julius Peppers.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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