As sacks decline, Julius Peppers stands alone

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Sacking the quarterback is harder than it used to be, which makes Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers’ totals all the more remarkable.

Peppers ranks fifth in NFL history with 143.5 sacks. And with Demarcus Ware and Robert Mathis retiring this offseason, and Dwight Freeney unsigned, Peppers is the only active player in the Top 20 in career sacks.

The four players ahead of Peppers on the all-time sack list — Bruce Smith, Reggie White, Kevin Greene and Chris Doleman — all started their careers in 1985. That year, NFL teams averaged 2.92 sacks per game. By the time Peppers entered the NFL, in 2002, sacks were down to 2.29 per team per game. By last year, sacks were down to 2.18 per team per game.

As rules changes have favored passing offenses, and NFL teams have prioritized protecting their quarterbacks, it’s become more difficult to get a sack. Bruce Smith’s career record of 200 sacks is almost certainly out of reach for the 37-year-old Peppers. And when Peppers retires, he may have a sack total that’s out of reach for any active player. Getting to the quarterback has never been harder, and players like Julius Peppers don’t come along very often.

22 responses to “As sacks decline, Julius Peppers stands alone

  1. We miss Julius in Green Bay — a great team mate and presence. Wish he had chosen to stay in green and gold.

  2. Me too. Julius is a class NFL player. I miss him already and the season hasn’t even started. I hope this guy gets to close out his career in Carolina with a great big exclamation point.

  3. Sacks are not EASIER to get because of more pass plays. The rules changes on offense and defense make it more difficult. That is why you have a decline in the number of sacks per game, as the article states, over the last 30+ years. That is also why I question people who want to take players from this era and call them the GOAT. Imagine if Montana had these rules, or Jerry Rice? When you have certain QBs complaining about roughing every time they get hit, you’ve changed the game for the worse. When you have receivers balking at any contact, throwing a fit and getting an otherwise uncalled flag, you’ve changed the game for the worse.

  4. Curious as to what the average release time was then compared to now. To me that has more to do with sacks than anything. If a QB takes three steps and fires it hes kinda hard to sack.

  5. Let’s keep in mind that ‘sacks’ were not counted in the early days of the NFL, so Smith’s total, impressive though it is, may be less than some old and forgotten players.

  6. He is great at generating sacks, playing the run and covering backs and tight ends are another story so his limitations as a OLB became obvious.

    Still, it’s amazing the number of game changing plays he made on a limited snap count. He’s a HOF-er and in his prime was fun to watch.

  7. Jimmy, he didn’t have an option to stay in GB, The brass moved on from him.

    But Julius was a great Packer short term. Wish him nothing but success, unless we are playing him. 🙂

  8. Sacks are a little overrated IMO. Pressure and hurries are more important. It’s all about disrupting the offense’s timing. A team can play defense successfully without getting a lot of sacks. The Patriots have never been known for having a high sack total but they still have a successful defense.

  9. While sacks per game have declined, some of the leagues most prolific sackers are playing right now: Von Miller, JJ Watt and Justin Houston all average more sacks per game than Bruce Smith. So yes, rules have changed and offenses have changed, but the low sack numbers could partly be attributed to lack of pass rushing talent around the NFL over the past 10-15 years.

  10. The days of the 5 and 7 step drop are gone and teams understand how dangerous these edge rushers are. Peppers playing back in the 80’s and 90’s would have been impressive to watch.
    The old timers were great and the new guys are great. The game itself is what is starting to suck.

  11. Sacks are variable. Some years teams get more, some years less. Can’t cherry pick 3 seasons in the last 35 years and paint a picture that sacks are declining.

    I’ve only briefly glanced at it but sacks per game were the same in 1988(2.3) as they were in 2012 and lower than they were in 2013(2.5) and 2014(2.4).

  12. Another thing missed in why it is harder now to get a sack than it was then isn’t just rules changes to protect offensive skill players but the whole blocking philosophies of O Lineman.
    No tackle back in the day was in a 2 point pass set.
    Nobody used a slide step.
    You couldn’t use your hands, just forearms & shoulders.
    There wasn’t a whole lot of shotgun sets.
    Also, the fullback/ 2nd TE basically turned into a full time 3rd receiver making defenses play back more & more sub-packages instead of attacking – less team pressure usually means less individual pressure.

  13. It’s not just the rule changes that are affecting sack numbers, it’s the trends of the league. Right now quick passes that lead to record breaking pass completion %’s play just as much of a role. The Lions have a quick passing system which has enabled Matt Stafford to have the 2 highest comp % totals of his career under Jim Bob Cooters O, and Sam Bradford just broke the record for highest comp % in a season, implemented in part to protect him from an OL that couldn’t.

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