It’s Fletcher Cox’s Time of Year
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - On most game days Fletcher Cox is the best pure football player on the Philadelphia Eagles and that comfortable constant got ramped up a bit in Los Angeles last weekend.
Maybe the fact that Aaron Donald -- the only man in the world who can credibly claim to be a better interior defensive lineman than Cox -- was on the other sideline helped or maybe the Eagles being up against it from a playoff perspective fueled Cox.
Either way, his rag-dolling of Rams center John Sullivan during a 30-23 Philadelphia win could only be described as defensive line porn.
The numbers -- three tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits in 75 percent of the defensive snaps despite being carted to the locker room at on point due to a hip problem -- don't do the performance justice although it was nothing new from Jim Schwartz's perspective.
“Same stuff we see from him every week,” the Eagles defensive coordinator downplayed on Tuesday, the same day Cox was named to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl, a number already second in franchise history for a defensive lineman behind only legendary Hall of Famer Reggie White.
With everyone else focusing on the splash plays Schwartz took a more nuanced approach with Cox, pointing to the savvy the veteran used to blow up a screen play or the disciplined pass rushes which freed up Nigel Bradham and Malcolm Jenkins to make plays.
“That doesn't get you a sack, that doesn't get you a pressure, but it gets a third-down stop and those are your important things,” Schwartz said when discussing Cox's impact. “I think a lot of times everybody notices the sacks or the tackles for loss and things like that, Maybe things that go a little bit under the radar are things like hustling down field, making a play on a wide receiver screen or getting a protection turned to you so much that it opens it up for somebody else. Those are things that I notice the most.”
Cox's stated goal before the season was winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, an honor that more than likely will go to Donald but for one night in December, the silver medalist at DT upgraded to gold especially when you factor in the hip issue that Schwartz assumed would limit Cox to third downs.
Cox was responsible for seven of Philadelphia's 17 total pressures against the Rams, according to ProFootballFocus.com and is second in the entire NFL with 83 total pressures behind you guessed it, Donald at 89, and far outdistancing the next closest inside defender at 62.
“That's just what time of year it is,” Schwartz said of Cox battling through to play his normal amount of reps and provide his typical production.
To date Cox has played over 80 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps and the impact of Tim Jernigan's back injury has limited the rotation on the inside up front as have injuries to ends Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat on the outside.
With two games left and the Eagles needing to win out and get some help to continue in January there will likely be no rest for the weary Sunday against Houston.
“It's what we need him to do,” Schwartz said of Cox's heavy workload. “It's not ideal, mainly just because of where we've been the whole season, with different injuries and things like that. He sort of did the same thing at the end of the year last year in the playoffs and those types of things, so he's ready for it.”
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen