Julius Peppers is a fiercer adversary of Father Time than most athletes, but even he can benefit from a little rest.
Before last week, Peppers went five straight games without registering a complete sack. So what did the Packers do? They gave their 35-year-old outside linebacker his first off day in the past two years.
Three days before the Packers’ trip to Detroit, Peppers missed his first in-season practice since signing with the team before the 2014 season. He responded with arguably the biggest defensive play in the Packers’ win against the Lions, snapping out of his slump with a strip-sack against quarterback Matthew Stafford in the third quarter.
“That’s just really communication between the player and the coach,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “That’s something I probably should be more aware of. We’ve talked about it in the past, and that was probably a long time coming.”
It’s unclear whether the Packers will continue resting Peppers periodically during the season’s final month. He practiced Tuesday, but the team had three off days after their win Thursday night.
There’s no denying the importance of keeping Peppers fresh throughout the 16-game season. His pass-rush production directly correlates to winning and losing.
The Packers are 7-0 this season when Peppers registers at least a half sack. They’re 1-4 when Peppers goes without a sack. Their lone victory with Peppers having no sacks came in September against the Kansas City Chiefs, and it took the Packers’ highest-scoring game of the season to win.
Peppers’ snaps have been tapered throughout the season. After 12 games, according to Pro Football Focus, he’s on pace to play 750 snaps. That’s approximately 170 fewer snaps than the 920 he played last year, an average of 10.6 fewer snaps per game. Peppers has exceeded 55 snaps in a game just once this season after doing it seven times last fall.
The Packers are also playing Peppers less as the season gets longer. He hasn't hit the 50-snap mark in his past five games. In that stretch, he has played only 52.7 percent of the Packers’ defensive snaps. Peppers played 67.3 percent of the defensive snaps through the first five games, and 78.7 percent of snaps last season.
Peppers’ limited playing time has been beneficial. With four games left, he already has matched last season’s sack total with seven. He’s also on pace to have 58 total quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. That would be two more than last season.
So the Packers are effectively getting more from Peppers by playing him less. Limiting his snaps should keep the Packers’ best pass rusher fresh into January, when they’ll make their playoff push.