All-22: Why Fletcher Cox Is So Dominant
Billy Davis is a bit worried, and it’s not difficult to understand why.
Metrics traditionally used to evaluate pass-rushers and run-stoppers don’t reflect that well on Fletcher Cox, who doesn’t rank in the top-20 in the NFL in sacks or in the top-50 in tackles-for-loss.
The defensive end is tied for sixth in forced fumbles, but so are 20 other players around the league. His impact is clear and indisputable to those who watch him, but the problem with his Pro Bowl candidacy is most people don’t see his film.
“He’s not overlooked by his peers. The players will vote him in and the coaches will vote him in. Anybody that puts a tape on or has gone against him, that’s a no-brainer. They will vote him in,” Davis said. “The problem lies in the fan vote and that’s what we have to help Fletch with is getting that fan vote up. People look at stats and say, ‘Hey, let me vote on a guy with stats.’ If you played against [Cox], you’re going to vote for him. If you coached against him, you’re going to vote for him. Now we’ve just got to get the fans out there to vote for him.”
There are stats that reflect how dominant Cox has been, such as how many hurries he’s accumulated. In his last five games, he’s recorded two sacks, nine quarterback hits and 23 hurries. In that same stretch, J.J. Watt has tallied five sacks, 12 quarterback hits and six hurries.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cox ranks fifth in pass rush productivity in the NFL, tallying seven sacks, 10 quarterback hits and 45 pressures. He’s also seventh in the league in run stop percentage.
“Fletcher’s a very well-rounded defensive lineman,” Davis said. “He can give you a good two-gap and hold the point on a double-team. He can convert the run into a pass rush really easy. Then when it’s just the flat-out pass rush, he’s got a couple of nice inside moves. He’s giving people fits and hopefully he’ll get the Pro Bowl recognition he deserves.”
Cox’s impressive play isn’t anything new, but it has elevated in the last couple of years.
“Fletcher has been good since we’ve been here. Fletcher has been making plays for us. I think his pass rush has really gotten better, if I had to pick one area,” Davis said. “He’s always strong and hard to move at the line of scrimmage.
“Then his one-on-one, I think he’s honed down to just a couple really good moves that he works on. A lot of times guys try to do all these different moves instead of just having a couple really good ones. I think he’s narrowed it down and is just going with what works.”
Although Cox’s impact doesn’t always translate to the box score, it did in the first series of the Eagles’ game against the Bills on Sunday. With Buffalo facing third-and-9 from their 32-yard line, Cox sacked Tyrod Taylor to end the drive.
“On this play, it’s a slide protection so he knows that he can beat the [left] guard backside,” Bennie Logan said. “Whenever we were in that rush package, most teams slide the protection to Connor Barwin, so Fletcher knew that and knew he could beat the guard backside.
“The guard steps down with his inside foot and Fletcher just went behind him and clubbed him. He beat him over the top. Once he got the club on him and turned his hips, there’s no way the guard could recover.”
In the Eagles’ win on Sunday, Cox had one sack, one quarterback hit and four hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. One of those hurries came in Buffalo’s two-minute drill in the second quarter, when Cox flushed Taylor outside of the pocket and helped force an incompletion.
It was a third down play and the Bills, who had the ball on the Eagles’ 43-yard line, had to punt.
“What people don’t realize is Fletcher can play any spot on the defensive line, and here he’s playing nose guard and gets a great pass rush,” Beau Allen said. “That’s one thing that’s underrated about him: he can get a good pass rush from anywhere and he feels comfortable at any position.
“He’s a tremendous athlete and you can see here that he moves the QB off the spot. That’s important because it disrupts the timing of the throw. Even though that doesn’t show up as a sack or a stat, it’s something that’s really important.”
Davis knows some statistics don’t reflect Cox’s production very well, so he offered one of his own and compared Cox to a perennial Pro Bowler: Ndamukong Suh.
“Right now we compare our guys and try to say, ‘Okay, who has the most contacts to the ball?’” Davis explained. “With defensive lineman you say, ‘How many snaps have you had and what percentage do you have a contact?’ Meaning, ‘Do you have an assist or a tackle?’ And Fletch is way up there. He’s way above Suh in those areas. So I think Fletch — they’re different players. They’re different sizes. But I’m sure glad we have Fletch. I wouldn’t want anyone else.”
Suh abused the interior of the Eagles’ offensive line when they met in Week 10, and Cox did the same against the Bills. Cox’s biggest play against the run came in the fourth quarter, when Buffalo faced first-and-10 from their 20-yard line.
Cox tackled LeSean McCoy for a loss of 10 yards, effectively ending the Bills’ drive on the first play of the series.
“On that play, we knew their main run was stretch,” Logan said. “The guard tried to cut Fletcher off and Fletcher did a good job of getting up field. He cut the play off and made the running back bubble back.”
Cox, who totaled seven tackles against the Bills, brought McCoy down for the third time early in the second quarter. After Brandon Graham shot through the line and almost earned a tackle-for-loss, Cox combined with Malcolm Jenkins to limited McCoy to a three-yard gain.
“He does a really great job of playing with his hands and doing whatever he can to get to the ball-carrier,” Allen said, “You can see that mentality of I’m going to get him down no matter what, and he plays with that all of the time.”
At the beginning of the second quarter, Buffalo tried to block Cox with just a tight end. He again limited McCoy to a three-yard gain.
“A tight end blocking him one-on-one? That’s automatically a win,” Logan said. “It’s a down-and-around play, and we have different techniques we could use to defeat that. But Fletcher just manhandled the tight end and got off and made the play. Anytime you put a tight end on one of us and try to block us, it’s definitely a mismatch. Fletcher just little boy’d him and made the play.”