Cox Playing Key Role In Eagles Pass-Rush
Eight different Eagles have notched a sack this season, yet the column next to Fletcher Cox’s name shows a goose egg.
Looking at numbers alone, it’d be easy to draw the conclusion that Cox is not doing much to affect opposing quarterbacks. But that assertion couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“We joke with him that he’s just as unlucky as anybody right now,” said Connor Barwin, who leads the Eagles with six sacks. “He wins consistently probably more than anybody in the pass-rushing group up front. But pass-rushing and sacks is such an opportunistic stat. He’s hit the quarterback a bunch, but the ball’s just gotten off or he’s been there first.
“And sometimes it’s not good to be the first guy because the quarterback sees you, and the quarterback scrambles out and me or Trent [Cole] or somebody else is getting the sack. So us on the outside, we’re very thankful for Fletcher and what he’s doing on the inside. But unfortunately [for him], he’s been getting there first a lot, and the quarterbacks see it. It’s hard to be the first guy there sometimes.”
In his third season as an Eagle, Cox is playing the best football of his career. He started out playing defensive tackle in Jim Washburn’s system and was focused on getting into the backfield and rushing the quarterback. Cox looked like a good fit in that role as a rookie.
But in Year 2, Chip Kelly, Billy Davis and defensive line coach Jerry Azzinaro took over. Cox needed some time to adjust to playing defensive end in a 3-4. He’s often asked to two-gap and focus on his responsibilities against the run. But six games into 2014, no Eagles defender has played as consistently well as Cox.
He’s been disruptive against the run and is winning one-on-one matchups as a pass-rusher on a weekly basis.
“I can’t say enough about Fletcher Cox and what he’s done for the pass rush,” said Davis. “We talk about it all the time, when the sack numbers weren’t up and we said there are guys moving [quarterbacks] off the spot and breaking the rhythm. Fletcher is probably the biggest guy of moving people off the spot right now. The sack numbers haven’t fallen his way, but I’m willing to bet at some point those numbers are going to pop for him because he’s that close that often.”
Said Cox: “The numbers don’t show, but they’ll start showing up. I’m getting there, maybe just one or two hitches away. I’ll get there. I’m not frustrated about it. I’m not being selfish and just going out there and doing anything. I’m just playing the defense that’s called, and the sacks will come.”
Take this example against the Giants. Davis dials up a six-man pressure that gets Cox a one-on-one. He beats the left guard cleanly, pressures Eli Manning and forces a rushed throw/incompletion.
That effort doesn’t show up in the box score, but Cox has been making plays like this consistently all season long.
Meanwhile, the Eagles have the league’s seventh-ranked run defense. Cox, Bennie Logan and Cedric Thornton have all done an outstanding job of two-gapping, shedding blocks and getting to the ball-carrier.
“I think Fletcher has done an outstanding job,” said Kelly. “I think he’s really caused a lot of problems for people in the run game, been a real force, and he’s been a force in the passing game. I think people get caught up too much in the sack numbers. It’s not the end‑all, tell‑all that that person is a great pass rusher. I think how disruptive he can be – maybe he’s eliciting a double team and freeing somebody up so somebody else gets a free rush at the quarterback and ends up getting the sack. That guy gets, quote‑unquote, the headlines, but Fletcher was the one who freed him up. I think on a consistent basis, in every single game, he’s really, really stood out to us as a defensive lineman. I think he’s having an outstanding year.”
Another example from the Giants game. Cox tosses right tackle Justin Pugh to the ground and stops Andre Williams for no gain.
“They know the numbers will come,” said Cox. “It’s only seven games this year. Obviously, I would like to be sitting on three or four sacks right now. But it’s just not me right now. I’m doing anything to help this team win. I’ll get there. I can promise you I’ll get there.”