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Julius Peppers once played for a defense that had 52 sacks in a season. That was the 2002 Carolina Panthers, and Peppers was a rookie. That year, the Panthers finished with the second-most sacks in the NFL.

So Peppers, with 129 career sacks, knows a good pass rush when he sees it. The Green Bay Packers second-year outside linebacker had high praise Thursday, calling his team’s current pass rush the deepest he’s ever been a part of in 14 NFL seasons.

“By far,” Peppers said.

The Packers are tied for second in the NFL with 17 sacks this season, with 13 coming in the past two weeks. They’re split among eight players. Peppers leads the defense with 3.5 sacks, with inside linebacker Clay Matthews and outside linebacker Nick Perry coming in second at three sacks apiece.

Not only does Peppers know he has the most sacks on the defense, but he said he makes sure Matthews knows it, too.

“We talk about it all the time,” Peppers said, smiling. “I’m riding high right now. I’ve got a half-sack lead on Clay. So I’m feeling good right now. I’m feeling good. I’m trying to keep it that way.”

Peppers said there’s a competitive spirit among the Packers’ pass rushers. They haven’t put a potential award on the line yet, but Peppers said it wouldn’t surprise him if whichever player finishes with the most sacks this season has a nice dinner waiting for him.

In theory, the wealth of depth would seem to take pressure off any one pass rusher, stressing an offense across the field. Peppers disagrees.

“It really adds pressure,” he said, “because you know that other guys are going to get there if you don’t. So it’s kind of a competition to make plays. Because if you don’t, the next guy will.”

Earlier this week, defensive coordinator Dom Capers said the pass rush has been helped by how the Packers have played the run. By getting defense into third-and-long situations, offenses are forced to be more one-dimensional, eliminating the element of surprise and creating more pass-rush opportunities.

Of course, the Packers’ pass rush has also aided their run defense. With depth at outside linebacker, the Packers can keep Matthews at inside linebacker. Matthews has still pressured the passer, but most of his rushes come on third down.

Matthews, a first-round pick in 2009, said the Packers have their deepest pass rush since he arrived in Green Bay. They’re on pace for 64 sacks through a quarter of the season, which would be the most in Matthews’ time with the Packers.

“I think everybody just wants their shot,” Matthews said. “That’s what’s great about this defense, especially this year, is everybody has something to prove and wants to prove their worth and compete against one another. I think that’s what brings out the best in each of us, is the competitiveness that we share when out there. Because obviously we have guys trying to get sacks, better the other person.

“It’s kind of infectious and it leads to a really good environment that leads to takeaways and good defense, really.”

-rwood@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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