Julius Peppers didn’t look like a soon-to-be 36 year old last weekend, chasing Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer all around University of Phoenix Stadium.
He had one sack and a team-high six quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. Eighteen games into his 14th NFL season, Peppers showed there was plenty of pass-rush burst left.
It’s been a consistent theme in his two seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Peppers was signed to make big plays in big games, and he’s been most productive late in the season. Of his 21 sacks with the Packers, 10 have come after Dec. 1.
He had 5 1/2 sacks after Dec. 1 this season.
After the Packers divisional playoff loss to the Cardinals, Peppers said he was “not sure” about his future in the game. Retirement will come at some point, probably sooner than later. It’s a decision Peppers wants to make this offseason before committing to the final leg of a three-year, $26 million contract he signed before the 2014 season.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said he has no doubt Peppers has at least one year of good football left. Capers pointed to how his veteran pass rusher has finished each of the past two seasons.
“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 (counting playoffs), I think. I thought he really rushed and played really well in the game Saturday night. As I look at him, you don’t see the signs at the end of the season that the arrow is not pointing up.
“He’s played his best at the end of the season. I think part of that is we’ve been able to control his reps and to try to keep him fresh so he’d be at his best when we get to that point in the playoffs.”
The Packers would seem to have plenty of incentive to bring Peppers back for another season. Off the field, he’s been a playoff captain each of his two postseasons. Peppers has had at least one sack in three of the four playoff games.
Capers said the example Peppers’ sets inside the locker room also carries a lot of value. He’s the player coaches point to when explaining to youngsters how to do the right things. Of course, that’s not nearly as important as producing on the field, but Peppers’ impact there has been unquestioned.
“Julius brings so much to the team, I think,” Capers said. “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.”
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