LAKE FOREST – Julius Peppers stood in front of a group of reporters and denied the existence of a carryover effect from his previous dominance against the Detroit Lions.
“It’s a new season,” Peppers said. “Nobody’s thinking about what happened last year. At least, we’re not.”
That was more than a year ago. Soon after, Peppers leveled Lions receiver Calvin Johnson to force a fumble that teammate Brian Urlacher recovered for yet another defensive touchdown.
No matter how many times Peppers insists otherwise, he seems to save his best games for the Lions.
That should be good news for the Bears (4-1) as they prepare to host the Lions (2-3) on national TV on Monday night. The Bears have had two weeks to prepare for the Lions, who have won at Soldier Field only once in the past seven seasons and have averaged 14.7 points a game in those contests.
Yes, this is a new season, but the Bears’ defense is back to its old tricks.
No team in the NFL has allowed fewer points a game (14.2) or generated more sacks a game (3.6) than the Bears. They are tied for third with a plus-9 turnover ratio and are No. 3 overall in total defense with 291.2 yards allowed a game.
As he has since signing a six-year contract in 2010, Peppers played a big role in the Bears’ dominance. He twice sacked Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in Week 2, and he and fellow defensive end Israel Idonije converged to sack St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in Week 3.
Next on the menu is Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Stafford has healed from past bruises inflicted by Peppers, but he cannot erase painful memories.
In Peppers’ debut with the Bears in 2010, the 6-foot-7, 287-pound defensive end raced around former Lions left tackle Corey Hilliard and slammed into Stafford for a sack-fumble. Stafford separated his shoulder on the play and spent the next six weeks on the sidelines.
Peppers’ success against Detroit also extends to his eight-year tenure with the Carolina Panthers. In eight career games against the Lions, Peppers has registered 10 sacks and five forced fumbles – statistics that would be eye-popping for a full season.
Stafford said he was not the only quarterback to endure Peppers’ pass rushes.
“I think we’re just like every other team,” Stafford said this week on a conference call. “He’s a guy that’s made lot of plays in this league for a long time. He’s an explosive athlete.
“Honestly, the Bears are doing a heck of a job with everybody. Henry Melton is having a great year. The rookie [Shea McClellin] is coming in and playing well. They’ve got a lot of guys that are doing a good job getting after the passer.”
It’s comments such as that that makes coaches and players nervous at Halas Hall.
Too much praise could lead to passivity. Too many compliments could lead to complacency.
Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli rather would spend his time promoting Stafford, Johnson and the rest of the Lions’ offense.
“They’ve got one of the best players in football at receiver, [No.] 81, and a great quarterback,” Marinelli said. “I mean, they’re tough to stop.”
Then again, so is Peppers.
Bears bits: Four players were listed on the Bears’ injury report. Receiver Alshon Jeffery (hand) is out, cornerback Sherrick McManis (hip) is questionable, and receiver Devin Hester (quad) and linebacker Blake Costanzo (thumb) are probable.