Three Leftovers On the Eagles’ Defense

Eagles DE Fletcher Cox helmet off at practice

A few things we didn’t get to this week…

1. Fletcher Cox watched the film after each game, saw how he was playing in the Eagles’ new defensive scheme and knew he needed to be productive.

“Just going back, man, the whole season, I think I’ve… just being honest… I think I was playing average, just being an average player,” Cox said. “And I felt like I just know I can be better. And the reason Howie [Roseman] and them brought me here was to play in backfields. I just really set out and looked in the mirror, and I told myself that I had to do better.”

And he has. Cox had five hurries last week against the Bucs and leads the team with 11 hurries on the season. No other Eagles player has more than five.

Last year, Cox flourished in Jim Washburn’s scheme, firing off the ball and making plays in the backfield all game long. This year, he’s adapting to a two-gap scheme where the focus is on the run. Cox is no longer shooting gaps, but he can still be disruptive and use his strength to move offensive linemen into the backfield.

“We’re still creating and trying to get on their side of the line of scrimmage,” he said.

On a league-wide level, Pro Football Focus has Cox down for seven QB hits, second among 3-4 defensive ends to J.J. Watt. The sacks (two on the season) haven’t always been there, Cox still has work to do against the run, and he’ll have to prove he’s taking steps forward against better competition.

But the coaches are seeing progress.

“I just watch every day’s work ethic and what you do, and are you moving forward in the techniques I’m asking to you do, and the answer is yes with him,” Davis said.

2. Opposing quarterbacks have found a favorite target in the Eagles’ secondary, and it’s cornerback Bradley Fletcher.

Fletcher has been targeted 39 times, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s tops on the team, and keep in mind he missed one game due to injury. Fletcher has broken up 10 passes, which is tied for second in the NFL, per STATS, Inc.

“I’ve probably had more balls thrown at me this year than any other year so far,” Fletcher said. “But bring ’em all on. I want to make plays. I want to make things happen.

“I want as many opportunities as I can to make plays to help our team win.”

Fletcher has been far from perfect. He was part of the breakdown on a 24-yard touchdown and gave up another 24-yard completion on third down last week against the Bucs. But on most deep balls this season, Fletcher has come through, breaking passes up and avoiding pass interference penalties.

“We practice the long balls in practice here through the week, and when it’s in the air, it’s just a timing thing,” he said.

3. The Eagles have been going with more of a four-down look in their nickel package recently. The plan at the beginning of the season was to use mostly a three-down look. Davis liked the idea of disguising where the fourth rusher was coming from.

But that look didn’t work out so well, so he’s made some changes.

“We’ve gotten more into an even front,” Connor Barwin said. “It [the three-down look] hasn’t worked very well, so that’s why you see more of the four-down.”

Trent Cole and Brandon Graham often line up at right defensive end. Cox and Cedric Thornton are the interior pass-rushers. And Barwin sets up at left defensive end.

The change has allowed the Eagles to better use some of their personnel. Vinny Curry has been on the field more (25 snaps last game), and cornerback Brandon Boykin only rushed the quarterback once vs. the Bucs, per PFF.

Against Dallas, the Eagles figure to be in nickel for most of the game. The guess here is that will mean more four-down looks than we saw earlier in the season.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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