The Dom Capers defense was exciting to watch this year – often times serving as a crutch or a bailout for a stagnant offense.
It was also very young. No member of the Green Bay Packers’ defense is even in their 30s aside from one very integral piece – arguable its most important piece – who turned 36 years old earlier in January.
This importance was recognized Monday as Packers’ linebacker Julius Peppers was selected to his ninth Pro Bowl, taking the place of the Super Bowl 50-bound Von Miller of the Denver Broncos.
Another accolade for the decorated 14-year veteran after turning out his second-consecutive impressive season as part of an improving defense, and has shown no real sign of decline.
The numbers prove that:
Peppers finished with 11.5 sacks this season, which makes a total for a total of 21 since joining the Packers last year (includes postseason sacks).
Before joining Green Bay, Peppers averaged just over 10 sacks per season.
Peppers has also started all 36 games he’s been in a Packers uniform and served as the most consistent outside linebacker the team has.
“Julius brings so much to the team, I think,” said Packers Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers as he addressed the media after the team’s 26-20 loss in the NFC Divisional Round to the Arizona Cardinals.
But on-field productivity aside, what he’s done as a leader in the locker room is arguably the most valuable piece of what he brings to this resurgent defense.
“As a coach, if you’ve got a lot of young guys, it’s far more effective to point to Julius Peppers and say, ‘There’s a reason why that guy has played for 13 years or whatever, because he’s a true pro.’ You go into any meeting, and he’s sitting up front taking notes. Never misses a practice,” Capers said.
So how important is Peppers to a defense that continues to grow into one of the most effective in the NFL? I’d argue that locker room impact alone warrants a spot on the 53-man roster, but Peppers is still making plays – and big plays at that.
Including playoffs, Peppers has had eight forced fumbles and two interceptions as a member of the Packers.
He also seems to be most productive late in the season where the Packers have had the biggest issue getting over the hump.
“He’s really played his best the last two years at the end of the season,” Capers said. “I thought last year in the playoffs, he played outstanding. What, he ended up with 11.5 sacks, I think. I thought he really rushed and played really well (in the loss to Arizona). As I look at him, you don’t see the signs at the end of the season that the arrow is not pointing up.
While Peppers is “not sure” if he’ll return for his 15th NFL season, a defense that could lose linebackers Mike Neal and Nick Perry to free agency needs a veteran leader. Next season would be the last of Peppers’ three-year, $26 million contract.