Fletcher Cox has eight seasons of NFL experience under his belt, and against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday that time paid off.
Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott called an audible just before the 10-minute mark in the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field, and the Eagles defensive tackle had a hunch on what was coming.
Cox, one of the leaders of the team’s defense, guessed right. He ended up forcing a fumble by Tony Pollard on a third-and-1 in Eagles territory, which helped spark the Eagles’ 17-9 win over the Cowboys to secure first place in the NFC East, keeping their playoff hopes alive and well.
“[Prescott] kind of checked out the play,” Cox said after the game. "Obviously I’ve been around the NFL for a while, so I heard the center giving the Mike point and I just took a chance and kind of went the way I thought he was going. I just took a chance and [as] he was trying to fight for extra yards, I had a chance to get the ball out.”
Cox was a disruptive force for the Eagles’ defensive front, which held Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott to 47 rushing yards on 13 attempts. On the pivotal third-quarter fumble, Pollard was in the game after Elliott requested a substitute.
Elliott, a few months removed from becoming the highest-paid running back in the NFL with a six-year, $90 million contract extension, came into the game averaging 114.8 yards against the Eagles over a five-game span.
“We had to stop 21,” Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. " ... I felt like we hit him, I felt like we didn’t let him get going. We didn’t let him do his little signature ‘eat’ move, whatever he does. We said we wouldn’t let him do that on this field today. That was our main goal, stopping the run."
Cox said the team noticed a glaring issue when watching the tape of Elliott running roughshod on them in the past.
“We just had to tackle, man,” Cox said. “If you go back and look at previous games we’ve played him, we just didn’t tackle him. Today, everybody did a good job of holding on until everyone else got there.”
Cox, 29, was sidelined for one play in the third quarter after hitting his elbow on Elliott’s helmet. The Fox broadcast reported that Cox used a heating pad and made a quick return, forcing the fumble.
“That dude is a monster,” said Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry, who finished the game with a sack. “That was huge for our momentum swing, that boosted our confidence then. ... That dude is a beast, man. One of a kind.”
Cox, who was just selected for his fifth Pro Bowl earlier this week, has recorded just 3 1/2 sacks this season, down from 10 1/2 last year. When asked if his performance against the Cowboys was his best of the year, he said he was just one stat shy.
“If I would have gotten a sack, probably,” Cox said. “It was a solid game.”