It took a while for Fletcher Cox to finally get the respect he deserves in the NFL, but once it started coming, it hasn't stopped.
He's now been to three consecutive Pro Bowls and picked up a $100 million contract in the process. In these playoffs, he's elevated his game even more. He's played an increasing number of snaps and has become even more of a disruptive force.
The Patriots have taken notice.
"Cox is as good as anybody in the league at his position," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said to New England reporters Wednesday. "He's a very disruptive player. Hard to block, run, pass, no matter what it is."
It's not uncommon for Belichick to praise his upcoming opponents, but he's certainly someone who knows a ton about defense and great players. He's a defensive-minded coach who has turned into arguably the best NFL coach of all time.
Belichick is going for his sixth Super Bowl ring in a week and a half.
"It's respect. And you know it's just a lot of respect from a coach like Belichick, man," Cox said. "A guys that's been around, a guy that's seen a lot of great players in this league. For him to say that that means I must be doing something right. But at the same time, I got three other guys beside me that's helping me push that limit, that's helping me get that recognition. I also want to do the same thing for those guys."
About those other guys, Belichick was pretty complimentary of them too.
Jim Schwartz and defensive line coach Chris Wilson have rotated defensive linemen all season. While the rotation leveled off some in the first two playoff games, they still rotate guys in and out. Belichick was asked about the Eagles' dominant front four Wednesday.
"Yeah, it's a lot more than four. I wish it was just four," Belichick said. "Yeah, it's about eight, nine. Again, it's a very disruptive group. They're hard to run against, hard to throw against. Again, they're well coached, very instinctive. Screens and plays like that that you think will take the edge off the pass rush don't look as good. When you run them they don't look as good as what you think they're going to look like — draws, screens, things like that, play action. A lot of times they blow those plays up, too. They do a good job. They've got a lot of good players. They have good inside rushers. They have good outside rushers."
At different times this season, the Eagles have used 10 defensive linemen: the starting four of Cox, Tim Jernigan, Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham and the second line of Chris Long, Derek Barnett, Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao. Even Elijah Qualls and Steven Means have seen action.
Cox played 90 percent of the Eagles' snaps against the Falcons and probably would have played nearly that many against the Vikings had the game not been a blowout. That's a lot more than the regular season, but even he sees the importance of the rotation.
"Coach (Chris) Wilson trusts everybody, Coach Jim (Schwartz) trusts everybody," Cox said. "For them to be able to rotate those guys in and you not to see a dramatic drop-off, it's great. Because not every guy can play every snap. I mean, I try to, but it's hard to sometimes. You're going to miss five or six plays here and there. To roll in that many guys and not see a drop-off, everybody is getting the same game plan. We're pushing those guys to be on the same level as us."