In Wednesday’s key matchup, PFW’s Dan Parr focuses on the battle between Julius Peppers and Anthony Castonzo in Sunday’s Colts-Bears game.
Colts OLT Anthony Castonzo vs. Bears DRE Julius Peppers
Colts QB Andrew Luck has his sights set on making a good first impression in his first regular-season start. The matchup that will unfold on his blind side will have a big say in determining the type of performance that Luck, the first overall pick in this year’s draft, is able to put forth.
Anthony Castonzo, who started all 12 games he appeared in last season, will be playing in front of his hometown crowd Sunday at Soldier Field as he begins his sophomore year in the NFL. He will spend much of his day trying to block Julius Peppers, whose rare blend of size, length, strength and explosiveness gives him the potential to consistently win battles against the Colts’ 2011 first-round pick.
Castonzo has good length and certainly will not back down from the challenge of keeping Peppers away from Luck. He has the ability to shuffle, slide and mirror without losing his footing, but he will need to do a better job of guarding against being outleveraged. He has to use his hands to his advantage and avoid giving up the inside. Speed rushers gave him problems last season, and if Peppers is firing off the ball and having success getting into the backfield, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is going to have to think about sending a tight end or a chipping back to Castonzo’s side to help seal off the edge. Peppers, though, has been playing through plantar fasciitis. If the soreness from that issue flares up, Peppers might be a step slower than usual.
Much of the focus will be on how Castonzo fares in pass protection against Peppers, but his run blocking is also something to monitor. Peppers is a stout run defender and run blocking has never been Castonzo's strength.
The Bears are the heavy favorite in this game, and if they build a comfortable lead, the Colts will have to try to throw their way back into the game. That could spell trouble for Castonzo. If Peppers is able to pin his ears back, Luck’s introduction to the NFL could be a rocky one.