No Worries with Fletcher
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - In today's NFL, 18-hour days are part of the job description for most coaches, who wear their work ethics on their sleeves like a badge of honor.
Most of that time is spent wringing hands and trying to figure out how to mask as many deficiencies as possible against the upcoming opponent.
All coaches have a core group of players they never lose sleep over, however, blue-chippers who are expected to perform at a high level every week against any opponent.
At the top of Chip Kelly's list of players he never has to worry about is defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, who is coming off a career day in the 39-17 win over New Orleans on Sunday.
(Listen to John McMullen on the Sports Bash discuss Fletcher Cox and more)
The star, five-technique moved up and down the line against the Saints and made Drew Brees' afternoon miserable, piling up three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery to earn NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“It's what Fletch has done here since we've been here,” Kelly said on Monday. “I think he's just starting to get noticed what he probably should have gotten before. ...You go back to last year, and an opponent is talking about going in, getting ready to play us, and they're talking about Fletcher's name."
Even Reggie White didn't match Cox's production against NOLA very often so saying that is what the former first-round pick had done since Kelly arrived in Philadelphia was a bit of hyperbole but the underlying message came across clear and concise.
Cox, along with left tackle Jason Peters, have been the two players who have played at a consistently high level during the Kelly regime.
And now the Mississippi State product seems to be making the leap from Pro Bowl-caliber player to an All-Pro level. When you talk about defensive linemen in this league you start at J.J. Watt and then perhaps Aaron Donald before you land on Cox, certainly rarified air.
“(Sunday), it kind of all came together for him," Kelly said. "I mean, he's made some really big plays; this wasn't his first big game for us. But, it's something that we've become kind of accustomed to because of the type of player Fletch is.”
Despite playing in a 3-4, two-gap system designed for linemen to occupy blockers so others, namely Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham, can make plays, Cox is dominating on a consistent basis with four sacks, which matches his entire total from 2014, and a career-high two forced fumbles.
At 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, Cox has the athleticism to play inside or outside, enabling defensive coordinator Billy Davis to search for the best matchup on the opposing offensive line and let Cox loose.
"I hope the outside world recognizes the talent that he has," Davis said. "He's a Pro Bowl-caliber player. I've been around a long time, and that's what they look like. They play the run and they cause disruptions in the passing game. Sack numbers come and go, but he has the skill set."
A skill set displayed with the rare trifecta on Sunday.
The real turning point against New Orleans came in the third quarter when the Eagles pulled away over a 13-second span. After Ryan Mathews plunged in from two yards out, Cox got to Brees on New Orleans’ next offensive play, forcing a fumble and recovering it himself at the Saints’ 13-yard line. A busted coverage on the ensuing play left Brent Celek wide open in the end zone and Sam Bradford found the tight end for the score.
“To make a play like that, not only does he force the play, he gets a sack, he causes the fumble, and then recovers the fumble,” Kelly said. “It was a really big play for us, especially at that point in time in the game, too, but I think that's the type of player he is. And I think -- we keep seeing him getting a little bit better every week, so that's a good thing for us as we're moving forward here.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen