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Eagles’ reeling defense needs Fletcher Cox to be dominant again | Early Birds

While Cox should be lauded for his durability, he has yet to match the dominance of 2018, when he had a career-high 10.5 sacks.

Eagles' Fletcher Cox sacks Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the 1st quarter at Heinz Field on Sunday.
Eagles' Fletcher Cox sacks Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the 1st quarter at Heinz Field on Sunday.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Good morning and welcome to another week following a difficult loss by the Eagles, Sunday’s 38-29 defeat to the host Pittsburgh Steelers. The Eagles are 1-3-1, and it hasn’t been just one aspect of the game that has been off. While the offense scored 29 points against one of the best defenses in the NFL, Carson Wentz threw two more interceptions, giving him nine this season. The defense, while putting some early heat on Ben Rothethlisberger, allowed 39 points.

So Doug Pederson has his work cut out for him, especially with the Super Bowl contending Baltimore Ravens visiting Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.

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More needed from Cox

While a defensive tackle can never be judged solely on statistics, the Eagles could use more production from Fletcher Cox. Just listing his tackle and sack totals don’t tell his true value because he takes on so many double teams, but he doesn’t appear to be a player who blows up opposing offensive lines, like he did earlier in his career.

Cox hasn’t been his dominant self since 2018, when he recorded a career-high 10.5 sacks. Last season he was banged up but never missed a game and recorded 3.5 sacks. This season he has 1.5 sacks in five games.

Again, nobody should get too hung up on sack totals for a defensive tackle, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.

To Cox’s credit, he continually answers the bell, even if he is less than 100 percent. Since the Eagles made him their first-round draft choice and 12th overall selection out of Mississippi State in 2012, he has been active in 130 of a possible 133 regular-season games. He has also appeared in seven postseason games.

In the Eagles 20-14 playoff loss at New Orleans in January 2019 he suffered a foot injury that required surgery.

Cox returned and didn’t miss a game last year, although he wasn’t always 100 percent. He earned his fifth straight Pro Bowl berth, but was that on reputation?

Even in Sunday’s game he left but then returned. When asked how he came out of the game physically, he said: “I came back. I was fine. …”

Cox will turn 30 in December, and one has to wonder whether he can still be a week-in and week-out dominant force. He was asked after the Pittsburgh loss whether he is frustrated to not have bigger sack totals.

“No, I know my time is coming and I tell the guys in the room all the time, if I stay calm, they stay calm,” he said. “The minute I lose my stuff, they lose their stuff, and it kind of gets everybody out of whack, so if I stay calm, they will stay calm. and everybody will be fine.”

He then added this nugget.

“There is plenty of food on the plate for everybody to eat in that room.”

Right now the Eagles as a team are hungry for difference makers on defense, such as Cox in 2018.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. From the Eagles’ standpoint, their top performer against Pittsburgh was Travis Fulgham. EJ Smith looks back at the receiver’s big day.

  2. Over the last two weeks, Zach Ertz has caught five of 11 targets for just 15 yards, 1.4 yards per pass attempt. Jeff McLane asks: What has happened to the Eagles Pro Bowl tight end?

  3. Marcus Hayes’ observations from the game include his appraisal of Fulgham and some praise for the Eagles’ makeshift offensive line.

  4. Mike Sielski writes that there were positives in the loss, but none of them centered on the defense, which he says failed them against the Steelers.

  5. Les Bowen and EJ Smith begin the Eagles notes by writing that Ben Roethlisberger changed the play on Chase Claypool’s final touchdown.

  6. Paul Domowitch gives his Eagles grades and not surprisingly, the pass defense didn’t fare very well.

  7. Domowitch also dissected what went wrong with the Eagles’ D on third down. Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 13 times on third down — and completed all 13 passes.

  8. Smith followed the game from opening kickoff until the final play and here is his blog, which includes all the important video highlights.

  9. Jeff McLane has his up-down drill and, not surprisingly, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz didn’t receive a thumbs-up. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how Chase Claypool fared.

  10. David Murphy writes that Travis Fulgham showed that all Carson Wentz needs is a legitimate NFL wide receiver.

  11. Doug Pederson talked about his late-game decision to go for a 57-yard field-goal attempt on a fourth and 5 from the Pittsburgh 39.

  12. Our Twitter reaction to the game as experts comment on the big plays as they happen along with some of the key video highlights. Despite the loss, there were some positive statements about the Eagles.

  13. Hayes writes that Dak Prescott’s tragic injury makes the Eagles NFC East favorites again. Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury in Sunday’s win over the New York Giants.

  14. Inquirer photographers Yong Kim and Steven Falk offer this photo gallery of the game.

From the mailbag

“Why did Jim Schwartz choose to cover a speedy receiver who had burned you all day with a linebacker in such a crucial time. Role reversed — the Pittsburgh coordinator put his best corner on the guy we had that was hurting them when it was 3rd and 5. Why does our coordinator seemingly never make these types of adjustments? Even the commentator on TV easily called out the mismatch.” — John Koss from Facebook.

Thanks for the question, John. I am sure in this week’s news conference Schwartz will address that issue. You are talking about the 35-yard touchdown reception by Chase Claypool, his fourth TD of the game (one came on a run). He was covered by linebacker Nate Gerry, who has drawn his share of criticism for his pass coverage this season. The real question is on a third-and-8 play, and knowing the Steelers had to pass, why was Gerry in the game? One of the knocks against Schwartz is that there aren’t enough in-game adjustments. After Claypool torched the Eagles all game, one would think that they would do a little more to take him away from the offense. Of course, the Steelers have such a solid receiving corps that a number of players can make big plays. Still, none of them should be covered by a linebacker, especially one who has struggled like Gerry. I think we are all awaiting Schwartz’s response.