Marquee Matchups: The Clady-Peppers Undercard

| 5 years ago

Marquee Matchups: The Clady-Peppers Undercard

The Denver Broncos are stealing the headlines around the country right now and rightly so. On the back of a series of outstanding performances by their defense and some clutch drives led by Tim Tebow, the Broncos are riding the crest of a wave towards a playoff spot that seemed completely improbable earlier this season.

The only real shame with the whole Tebow craze currently is that some really good football is being missed with the attention centered squarely on the quarterback and his individual merits. In this past week’s Bears vs. Broncos tilt, a matchup between a blocker whose career marks have shown him to be one of the better left tackles in football and a defender who has consistently been among the game’s best defensive ends went almost completely unnoticed.

Perhaps that’s not surprising, though, because even as a lot of people love watching a good matchup in the trenches, when you have a comeback like the one the Broncos put on, it’s inevitably going to be overshadowed. However, this week in Marquee Matchups, we’re going to refocus that outlook a little. We took a look at Tebow last week in Minnesota so we’ll give him his credit for another great comeback this week and take a closer look at some of the highlight plays that Ryan Clady and Julius Peppers presented us in this game. Peppers won the statistical battle against Clady, registering a sack and fives pressures, yet, in a game where Tebow passed the ball 41 times, Peppers was unable to make that decisive play in halting Denver’s comeback.


Q1 – 13:53

Our first noteworthy event in this matchup comes on the Broncos’ opening drive. We have a third-down attempt which they fail on a sack credited to Henry Melton. Melton may be the Bear who finished the play but it was Peppers who collapsed the play by getting pressure on Tebow. This forced him up through the pocket allowing Melton to clean up. Peppers doesn’t shed the block but his bull rush rocks Clady back and he continues that momentum, driving him straight back to the Broncos’ QB. Tebow has nowhere to go but up in the pocket and the Bears’ defensive tackles who have stayed disciplined in their lanes, take Tebow down.

Q1 – 6:03

Later in the first quarter, Peppers is again able to beat Clady for a pressure on Tebow. Clady and Peppers end up isolated on the play and Peppers is able to cut to a gap inside of Clady and drive the inside shoulder of the Broncos’ left tackle back to the quarterback. To Clady’s credit, he doesn’t quit on the block and stays with Peppers which allows a QB of Tebow’s ability to move away from the pressure and unload a pass to Demaryius Thomas which the Bronco receiver turns into a first down.

Q1 – 4:42

A play after the Bears get a delay of game penalty out of the Broncos, with Brian Urlacher seemingly beating Tebow in a game of chess at the line of scrimmage, Denver strikes back by converting a 3rd-and-long. Clady plays a key role on the play as he is again isolated with Peppers. This time though, he is able to match the Bears’ defensive end step-for-step, stymying him on his pass rush. Clady gets some help from his LG Zane Beadles as Peppers tries to work back inside. Tebow then takes off into the left flat to find Matt Willis down the field. Clady stays with his man and even though the scramble loses his leverage on the block, he never quits on it. This gives Tebow time in the flat for the throw.

Q2 – 13:59

Peppers showed here why he is such a great pass rusher. He doesn’t only rely on speed, he has great strength and inside moves to go with his quickness off the edge. With Amobi Okoye driving hard off of Beadles’ outside shoulder, Peppers clubs and drives to the Clady’s inside, beating his block to take Tebow down, setting up a 3rd-and-long. Again, the Bears created the collapse in the pocket on the initial pressure while not letting Tebow escape and do damage on a broken play.

Q2 – 7:31

Halfway through the second quarter, we get a play that shows the back-and-forth between two top players as both individuals can come away from the play feeling they’ve won. Peppers gets a good burst off of the line and drives around Clady’s outside shoulder to spook Tebow in the pocket before Clady is able to take control and take the block to ground. Clady has kept Peppers away from Tebow here but Peppers has in his pocket the fact he got the win on first contact, driving through Clady’s outside shoulder before he was taken down.

Q2 – 5:44

As we get towards the end of the second quarter, we finally get to see Clady at his best as he locks up on Peppers. This gives Tebow and Eric Decker the chance for a big play to spark the Broncos’ offense. Peppers takes off outside and while completely isolated, Clady locks on to the block and mirrors Peppers perfectly to keep him out of the play. Tebow finds Decker to the right sideline but the second-year receiver is unable to bring in the pass and an opportunity is missed.

Q2 – 4:57

Later that same drive, we get more of the give-and-take as Peppers again gets an initial win by getting outside of Clady. Clady then responds by driving Peppers out of the back of the pocket and out of the play. If not for a breakdown which allowed Craig Steltz free to the right side of the pocket, this recovery would have given Tebow the time to set and look downfield. As it is, he had to scramble and Urlacher cuts him down short of a first down.

Q3 – 13:11

This play was the Broncos’ big missed opportunity coming just after half time. Tebow and Demaryius Thomas failed to hook-up on a deep route that would have changed the complexion of the game from a stale 0-0 tie. As with the missed connection with Decker earlier in the second quarter, Clady is completely isolated with Peppers until he gets late help neutralizing Peppers’ initial outside surge before closing off an attempted inside move. Clady was rightly frustrated after the play by the Broncos’ failed chance.

Q4 – 9:30

It’s the fourth quarter, it’s Tebow time and he tries to get things going with a run play. However, Peppers makes a good play without getting free from Clady’s block to cut off the run’s flow. Tebow then reverses field and is cut down behind the line by Steltz. With the Broncos looking to move the line to the left, Peppers stands his ground and drives inside of Clady’s block to stop the play dead in that direction forcing Tebow’s unsuccessful reversal.

Q4 – 9:02

On the very next play, Peppers and the Bears demonstrate the hazards of singling up a tackle on a defensive end. Here, Clady gets carried away chasing Peppers inside on a stunt. The first defender to come across Clady, Stephen Paea, goes wide and Clady’s immediate blushes are saved but the distance he has moved inside has left him out of position to pick up a delayed blitz by Steltz. For the second straight play, Steltz takes down Tebow behind the line, forcing a turnover in the process as Clady and the Broncos are burned by their focus on Peppers.

Q4 – 6:18 & 6:12

On these two plays Clady and the Broncos learned their lesson from the sack they gave up to Steltz earlier in the quarter. The Bears went back to the well, again crossing Peppers with defensive tackle Amobi Okoye on consecutive plays. This time Clady and the Broncos picked the stunts up seamlessly and the Bears didn’t make any headway on either attempt. Fool me once …

Q4 – 2:15

This play is one of the most important in the game and, for this matchup, possibly the most contentious. If you’re a Broncos fan, Clady has recovered well from being beaten initially to see Peppers out of the back of the pocket. If you’re a Bears fan, Peppers has turned the corner and Clady has put his arm around Peppers’ shoulders to prevent him getting to Tim Tebow, it’s a hold. It’s one you see called both ways within a season … heck, you’ll see it called both ways within a single week. This time Clady got away with it and once again the Bears and Peppers get the edge but just can’t finish.

OT – 12:37

After getting close to Tim Tebow on the first snap, Peppers was a non-factor for the remainder of the Broncos’ game-winning drive. Whether through fatigue or by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli’s desire to not to let Tebow scramble for the yardage necessary for a field goal try, Peppers’ sole concern was containment. The Bears had let Tebow escape the pocket a few times and they weren’t going to let him do it in crunch time. Clady had an easy job in that span as Peppers was never going to look to drive inside and let Tebow bounce out.



On an overall play-by-play performance, Peppers won the matchup, but he and the Bears lost the game. The extra threats in the Denver offense stopped Peppers from being able to really cut loose and go after Clady as he has shown he is capable of doing against even the best left tackles in the league. The threat of Tim Tebow getting around the outside caught Peppers at the 10:29 mark in the third quarter. He adjusted the next play, but the need for the adjustment–on pass and run plays–took away some of Peppers’ aggression in this game.

While Peppers may have gotten the better of Clady here, the Broncos’ left tackle did just enough in that he was rarely beaten decisively. If he did give an edge, he would fight back into the play and give Tebow a chance to escape. Clady never quit on this matchup, the Broncos never quit on the game and they came out victorious in the end. Peppers and the Bears had the upper hand but they simply couldn’t finish and put Clady and the Broncos away.


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| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

  • motorcycle

    Individual matchups (and Xs and Os) are the most interesting part of football to me. To have a feature like this one is really useful as time to study them myself has been difficult to find lately (I get time for Green Bay’s game and little else). More of these type of individual matchup reviews and analysis please. Good work and thanks!