Fletcher Cox

Remarkable what Eagles' D-line has been through together

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Remarkable what Eagles' D-line has been through together

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — There are six players on the Eagles' active roster who've been here since 2012.

Three of them are Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.

Which goes a long way toward explaining what makes this Eagles defensive line tick.

They've been through everything together. Reid's firing. Chip's hiring and the Eagles' ascent to playoff team, then the ensuing collapse and Chip's firing. Doug Pederson's arrival and another ascent, this time to Super Bowl team.

Through it all, Cox, Graham and Curry have been together, stuffing the run, rushing the quarterback and forming the nucleus of a team that on Sunday will play for the NFL championship.

"We've all been together so long, and we've all been friends for so long, and we have fun out there," Graham said. "And it's not fake. We all enjoy each other, we respect each other as far as our personalities and what we each bring to the team.

"When you can embrace a guy like that and your trust is based on so many years together, in moments of adversity we already know how to deal with each other, how to stay focused on what we're trying to do."

Graham was the Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2010 and Cox and Curry arrived in the first and second rounds in 2012. The only other guys on the roster who got here during Andy Reid's tenure are Brent Celek in 2007, injured Jason Peters in 2009, Jason Kelce in 2011 and Mychal Kendricks in 2012.

There are only 29 active defensive linemen in the NFL who have played 80 or more games all for the same team. The Eagles have three of those 29. 

"I think it's great when you've got guys that have been around for a long time," Cox said. "The chemistry that we have, the communication that we all work on. I think having been here for so long that on the field it just helps us play that much faster knowing where each guy will be.

"It's a blessing. Me being able to play besides B.G. for so long, man, it's, I mean, there is just so much stuff that we do together. The little things that people don't see, like timing. We're running 3rd and long, I may be outside, he may know I'm outside, and he comes inside and makes the play. I think the little things right there have got us to where we are right now."

Beau Allen arrived in 2014, so he's in his fourth year with this group. Chris Long, Tim Jernigan and rookie Derek Barnett arrived this past offseason.

"Being together this long? It's rare and it's a big positive," Graham said. "It just goes to show you how much the organization values their draft picks and values players that work well together.

"That continuity is big. And me and Vinny both went through adversity early on. Fletch, he didn't go through any adversity, he just jumped right into it.

"But it's cool to be able to stay together this long and overcome adversity. It makes it this much sweeter."

Cox is a two-time second-team all-pro and three-time Pro Bowler and Graham made second-team all-pro this year and should have been on the Pro Bowl team. Curry's stats don't show it, but he had his most consistently productive season this year.

"The biggest art of it is their ability to want to help one another," said Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who coached Cox at Mississippi State in 2010 and 2011.
"There's power in helping each other, and they complement each other very well in that regard, and that's really been their mantra since I've been here: How do we improve and get where we need to.

"The biggest thing is they all have the potential to get sacks, to get turnovers, to make a big play at any point in time."

There are a lot of reasons the Eagles reached Super Bowl LII and will face the Patriots Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

One of the biggest is the dominant performance of this defensive line. The Eagles finished No. 1 in the NFL in rush defense and No. 4 in total defense, takeaways and scoring defense.

"When you've been together as long as we have, we all know what each other is thinking," Curry said. "If we run a crazy stunt, it's natural. You know that guy, how he rushes, where he's going to rush. Fletcher's on my side, I know what he's going to do even before he knows what he's going to do, so I know what I can't do.

"And if I'm wrong, I'll wait till he bitches on the sideline."

Like the Eagles' last great defensive line led by Reggie White, Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons, this group is as competitive as it is close-knit.

"It's a competitive room," Wilson said. "From who's the best dressed to who can bench the most or who can make the most shots in the Pop-a-Shot game in the back of our locker room. And I think that's necessary. These guys really push each other."

Cox, Graham and Curry have been at the bottom of the football world … two different times, in fact.

So leading this team to within one game of a championship is incredibly special to them.

"Just the chemistry, it's unbelievable," Curry said. "At any given moment any player on this d-line can get hot, you know? That's the sweet part about it. It's almost like Golden State. Anybody on that team could make the All-Star team, and they could be, 'Me, me, me, me, but they're not.' They play together.

"And that the one thing about us. We play together. It's bigger than us. It's about getting to the point where we'll be next Sunday. That's all it's about."

Fletcher Cox sacks Jimmy Kimmel's Guillermo at Super Bowl media night

Fletcher Cox sacks Jimmy Kimmel's Guillermo at Super Bowl media night

Fletcher Cox means business. The Eagles defensive end has sacking Tom Brady and winning a Super Bowl championship on the brain.

So when Jimmy Kimmel's trusty sidekick Guillermo tried to bring the humor to the NFL's Opening Night of Super Bowl week, Cox wasn't really having it.

Guillermo asked Cox an oddball question about knowing what happens to his body after he dies. You can see the exchange below. Cox shuts it right down.

"I'm here to talk football," Cox said in response to Guillermo's ridiculous question.

Guillermo had a decent exchange with the Green Goblin about smoking Blount in practice. Jalen Mills wasn't playing along though either.

Bill Belichick actually handled Guillermo pretty well.

In Guillermo's defense, he's picking the Eagles, so now I love him.

Brady was pretty jovial with him. Don't believe for a second that Brady likes tequilla though.

Guillermo has done the Super Bowl media night thing before and when you edit his whole night down to about five minutes, it usually comes out pretty funny. You can watch last year's below and look for this year's to air tonight.

Bill Belichick heaps praise upon Fletcher Cox

USA Today Images

Bill Belichick heaps praise upon Fletcher Cox

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."