Eagles' Cox is coming into his own as a quality defensive end
As former first-rounder Fletcher Cox improves his play, he is earning praise and admiration from a wider audience.
AFTER THE Eagles' 33-10 Thanksgiving Day rout of the Dallas Cowboys, defensive end Fletcher Cox got a text from a longtime friend, a guy living back home in Yazoo City, Miss. The friend had just seen Cox chase down Dallas wideout Cole Beasley on a screen.
"He didn't know I could open up and chase a screen down. That kind of surprised him," Cox said yesterday, as the Eagles started to think about Sunday's matchup with the Seattle Seahawks. Practice resumes today.
This has been the year of "I didn't know you could do that!" for Cox, the 12th player taken in the 2012 draft, whose play at the sometimes thankless position of 3-4 defensive end has gone from earning praise in film review to wowing a much wider audience; Cox has sacks in three of the previous four games, including an emphatic slam of Tony Romo on Thursday, after garnering none in the first eight. But all season, Cox, with a year in the 3-4 behind him, has been pushing the pocket, herding quarterbacks into the clutches of Connor Barwin (12.5 sacks), Vinny Curry (seven), Trent Cole (6.5) or Brandon Graham (5.5).
After Thursday's game, safety Nate Allen was asked about Cox, as Allen made his way to the team bus. In grading the game, Pro Football Focus would give Cox three hurries, along with his sack, in 26 rushes, and four stops on 20 run-defense snaps, which is really strong.
"He's a dawg up front. He does a great job for us in the run game, in the pass game . . . He's a force, a force to be reckoned with," Allen said.
"The big question was, I had a lot of pressures early in the season, no sacks," Cox said yesterday. "Coach [defensive coordinator Bill] Davis and all of those guys said it the best - when the sacks come, they come in bunches. I just keep pushing. Hopefully, I can end the season with a pretty good number."
Cox has always said he focuses on team goals, but getting noticed on the big stage, having people talk about him as one of the league's best 3-4 ends, knowing he's living up to his high draft position - that stuff means something, too.
"It's great. National TV, everybody's watching. Just to be able to go out and finally let everybody see that this guy Fletcher, I mean, he can play," Cox said. "A lot of people say I was underrated. I just don't let that stuff bother me. I just wanted to keep pushing."
When the season began, one of the criticisms of the Eagles' defense was that it lacked a dominant player, someone opponents would have to game-plan around. You could argue that both Barwin and Cox have played at that level through 12 games. You certainly could argue that the Eagles' d-line, as a unit, with depth enough to rotate without losing much, certainly is something opponents must address very carefully.
"A lot of great guys, smart guys, that's willing to put it on the line," Cox said. He said he and fellow starters Cedric Thornton and Bennie Logan "talk about it all the time - it's going to start with us up front, so let's set the tone, from the first play to the last one. Vinny [Curry] comes in, Brandon Bair comes in, Beau Allen comes in; all those guys, we know they can get the job done. A fresh Brandon Bair is better than a tired Fletcher Cox any day."
Cox started his career in a 4-3 with Jim Washburn as his d-line coach; in fact, he might have been drafted at least in part because Washburn was so high on him. That year was a disaster that saw Washburn fired before the 4-12 season ended.
Cox, a Mississippi State star, had never lived outside his home state. His favorite pastime was building (but not driving, he stresses) drag racers, especially a Mustang he keeps back home. This is not a big part of the Philly sports scene. Cox's favorite shows are "Pinks" and "Street Outlaws." Off the field, he was a little lost, he acknowledges now.
"Everything was moving fast," Cox said. "Just being around a lot of people. And I was here by myself my rookie year. It was kind of hard for me, but I made it through. And I'm happy about it now, happy to be in Philly. Everything's great."