|Colts-Panthers matchup features two dominant defensive ends in Freeney, Peppers|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 25 October 2007 21:58|
On Sunday, the high-priced defensive ends meet for the first time outside the Pro Bowl in four years when Freeney's Indianapolis Colts visit Peppers' Carolina Panthers.
And after setting the bar with his six-year, $72 million deal with a $30 million signing bonus that made him the highest-paid defensive player, Freeney has a message for Peppers, who will likely soon get a contract worth more.
``I expect about two percent,'' Freeney said, laughing.
Freeney and Peppers have been linked since they came out of college together in 2002. Peppers, from North Carolina, was the second overall pick. Freeney, from Syracuse, went 11th.
Freeney has 60 sacks, while Peppers has 55. Each has helped their teams reach the Super Bowl, although Freeney has a championship ring and Peppers doesn't. They've each made the Pro Bowl three times despite facing constant double teams.
They're also very different players.
``Pep is more of your conventional defensive end. He's a big guy, strong quick and powerful,'' Panthers defensive end Damione Lewis said. ``Freeney is a smaller guy, but effective all the same. They really play two different games.''
The two also have opposite personalities. While Freeney is outgoing and a vocal leader, Peppers rarely speaks to the media and has been urged by Panthers owner Jerry Richardson to become more of a leader.
While Peppers shunned reporters again this week, but he does speak to Freeney.
``I know him very well,'' Freeney said. ``We came out the same year and went through the college circuit together with all the awards and stuff like that.''
At 6-foot-1 and 268 pounds, Freeney is six inches shorter and 15 pounds lighter than Peppers. There were questions he'd be too small to play defensive end in the NFL. But Freeney immediately helped turn around the Colts' defense, recording 13 sacks as a rookie.
He had a team-record 16 sacks in 2004 before dropping to 5 1/2 last season, when the Colts won the Super Bowl. He was still rewarded in the offseason with the big contract.
``It was very important to me to be the first guy up and playing at this level to set a new standard,'' Freeney said. ``I've always had a problem with guys being paid just based on the position that they play, as if their positions aren't as important as other positions.''
While the Colts let Freeney focus mostly on rushing the passer, the Panthers use Peppers in a variety of ways. A freakish athlete with tremendous speed despite his size, Peppers will occasionally drop into pass coverage and be counted on to stop the run. He even lined up as a receiver earlier in his career, and blocked a field goal earlier this season.
Peppers came under criticism for not getting a sack in the first five games. But he's coming off a strong game against Arizona where he had a 1 1/2 sacks. Still, the Panthers have only four sacks in six games.
``This is a hard game. You can't just expect him every year that after six games he'll have eight sacks,'' Lewis said. ``It doesn't happen that way. The sacks come in bunches.''
Despite their differences, Freeney and Peppers are the focus of offenses each week.
``Those guys are athletic and they have the knack of making the big play,'' Colts coach Tony Dungy said. ``They create turnovers and they're guys you've got to account for when you game plan.''
The last time the Colts and Panthers met in 2003, Freeney had two sacks and a forced fumble, while Peppers was held to one tackle. The Panthers still won the game in overtime.
Peppers could also win the money game when he comes to terms on a new deal that could surpass the $12 million a year average Freeney got.
``His contract is going to be ridiculous,'' Lewis said.
And maybe Peppers should give Freeney a cut.
``I was the first up, I had no one to negotiate against,'' Freeney said. ``It wasn't like I could say, 'Hey Julius got this.'''