Here's a link to the Julius Peppers story that I worked on all this week and part of last week as well. And here's how I did it.
To try and quantify the impact Peppers has had since he became the first Panther player to get paid a million dollars per game in base salary, I watched every defensive snap in the Panthers’ first three games after recording the games at home off TV.
On each play, I noted whether Peppers was in the game (he played on 82 percent of the defensive snaps). I also noted whether the play was a run or pass, where Peppers lined up, whether he was double-teamed, whether he dropped into coverage, whether he disrupted the offense in any sense and what the play’s overall result was. I watched almost every play twice to make sure of what I saw. (I did not count kneel-downs at the end of games in my play totals).
Any time Peppers was touched by more than one player – such as a running back “chipping” him with a shoulder on the way out of the backfield to a short pass route – I counted that as a double-team. I also counted it as a double-team when two players were obviously available to block him, even if he only made contact with one.
(Note: I've already had a couple of questions from readers about this story, so here are a couple of answers to those reader questions below).
Q: How did the Panthers' other defensive ends compare to Peppers when you watched them all on tape?
A: Even worse. For all his faults, Peppers is still clearly Carolina's best pass rusher. Damione Lewis and Charles Johnson at least get around the QB some. Tyler Brayton and rookie Everette Brown? They've basically been swallowed up on every pass play this season (no QB pressures between them, although Brown has had far fewer snaps).
Q: What, do you think you're an assistant coach or something?
A: No, not at all. I recognize that even after covering NFL football for something like 20 years, my eye is untrained compared to someone who coaches football for a living. But this story, I believe, at least helps to quantify some of the mysteries that surround Peppers and all defensive ends like them because there are so few defensive stats available for positions such as theirs.
Q: Do you think Peppers is taking plays off out there?
A: As I wrote in the column -- again, the link is here -- I think he takes the "second half" of a significant number of plays off. In other words, if Peppers' initial burst is contained within the first two seconds of a play, you don't see him doing much if anything after that. There's no sense of "Wow, he really kept fighting and look at that, he lucked into a coverage sack" or him chasing down a ball-carrier held up in traffic 30 yards downfield. If he doesn't get there immediately -- and the 4-time Pro Bowler has rarely gotten there immediately this season -- then he doesn't get there at all.