Eagles

Bill Belichick heaps praise upon Fletcher Cox

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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."

Brandon Graham stays ready in boxing ring, takes 'important step' for Eagles' 2018 opener

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Brandon Graham stays ready in boxing ring, takes 'important step' for Eagles' 2018 opener

In February, Brandon Graham won a ring. In the six months since he’s gotten in one.

Graham said Monday he’s been doing some sparring as he rehabs from postseason ankle surgery.

Graham, who had a career-high 9½ sacks last year, returned to practice Monday after spending the last three weeks on the Eagles' physically unable to play reserve list (see story).

“Boxing is real good, especially with using my hands,” he said. “I always do that during the offseason. Always focus on my hands, because as a D-lineman that’s our goal, you’ve got to use your hands in everything.

“So while I’ve been hurt I’ve just been trying to work on my coordination and make sure everything stays tight.”

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Graham will be limited for a while here as he works off the rust.

"There are steps he's got to take along the way,” Schwartz said. “This is an important step getting back on to practice with his teammates. Probably be limited to just some individual stuff and we'll sort of work him along. But it is great to have him back.”

Graham won’t play against the Browns Thursday night and almost certainly won’t play against the Jets in the preseason finale a week later.

All he’s got on his mind is the Falcons on Sept. 6.

“All I can say is when I do start hitting people, I’m going to be so sore, but then you’ve got to work through that soreness like we always do and eventually that starts to become your armor and you build on that,” he said.

“I’m excited. Just excited to be back out there with the boys. It’s been hard standing back because you don’t want to feel behind. I don’t feel like I’m behind but they got a lot more reps than I got, so I’m just trying to catch up.

“Everybody knows when it’s time to go it’s going to be time to go. I’m just excited. We’re all excited because it’s the first step.”

Graham, who had the legendary strip-sack of Tom Brady in the closing minutes of the Super Bowl, said his ankle is fine, it’s just a matter of conditioning at this point.

Week 1?

“I’m not going to make any promises, but I’m working my butt off every day,” he said. “Putting money in the bank every day.”

Graham has missed only one game since opening day of 2012, and that was the meaningless season-ender last year against the Cowboys.

Only four defensive ends — Jerry Hughes, Cameron Jordan, Julius Peppers and Ndamukong Suh — have played more games (96, obviously) over the last five seasons.

“I’m really just focused on Week 1 right now and focus on today and how everything goes,” said Graham, now 30.

“I feel like I can get myself ready for Week 1, for sure, because I’m already doing two-a-days and sometimes two-a-days. It’s on me to make sure I continue to get my shape up and that’s just running and doing drills and pushing and pulling on people.

“I think as I continue to feel better, I’m going to continue to go harder. I’m just excited because now I can start counting down the days. I’ve got 17 days to get right.”

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Tackling new helmet rule a challenge for Jim Schwartz, Eagles

Tackling new helmet rule a challenge for Jim Schwartz, Eagles

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is concerned enough about the NFL's new rule banning tacklers from lowering their head to initiate contact that he held a defensive meeting Monday specifically so his guys could study film of exactly how the league is calling the new rule.

Through two preseason weekends, the Eagles have been cited a league-high five times for personal fouls for lowering the head.

“The instructions we’ve given guys is, try not to lower your head and try to take your head out of it, and I think our guys are trying to do that,” Schwartz said.

“I can confidently say we don’t have any guys that are trying to play outside the bounds. We don’t have any guys that are head hunting, that are being selfish. They’re trying to play within the rules.

“I think you can see Nigel [Bradham’s] play, he’s trying to get his head out. I think even Rodney [McLeod’s] play, he’s trying to get his head across and get it out. The problem is they’re dealing with world-class athletes who are moving targets. A little bit easier said than done. 

“And those fouls have hurt us in those first couple preseason games and we’ve got to get to a point where they don’t hurt us in the regular season.”

Cornerback Sidney Jones was called for a lowering-the-head penalty on Steelers receiver Damoun Patterson in the preseason opener, and tight end Richard Rodgers was also cited in the opener for an illegal hit on Justin Thomas on a punt return.

Last Thursday night, McLeod was called for a hit on running back James White, Bradham was cited for a hit on receiver Julian Edelman and safety Jeremy Reaves was penalized for a hit on running back Mike Gillislee.

“It’s going to be very important work over the next couple weeks, not just learning from our own mistakes but learning from other teams,” Schwartz said.

“There’s some other good feedback. We get clips from the league that show not just penalties that were called but penalties that should have been called. So there is a learning process.”

Eagles veteran defensive end Brandon Graham said it’s going to be tough to eliminate these penalties simply because the game moves so fast, and even if your intention is to use perfect form tackling, it doesn’t always end up that way.

“It’s tough because sometimes the runner’s ducking his head just as much as you’re ducking,” he said. “But they just don’t want to see the crown of your head hitting his crown or hitting his facemask.

“Just really try to keep your eyes up. You’re going to get ran over sometimes. Hey, you’re going to get ran over. But some people do like to use the crown of their head and it’s just to protect them because you don’t want to be paralyzed from hitting someone the wrong way. 

"So I try to keep my face up and hit with my facemask and this will force people to start doing stuff like that.”

One challenge Schwartz noted is getting his guys to play hard, fast and aggressive without thinking about how they’re tackling.

“You want to play fast,” he said. “You want to play confidently on the field. But any time there’s something new, there is going to be an adjustment. 

“It’s a difficult thing. We're trying our best to work through it, but it does add a layer of difficulty to what we're trying to do.”

According to penalty stats on NFLgsis, an official league statistical web site, there have been 48 lowering-the-head penalties called in 32 preseason games or 1½ per game.

Eight of the 32 teams haven’t been cited at all. The Eagles and Titans have been called a league-high five times each.

“It’s real sensitive right now, but as professionals, we’re going to adjust,” Graham said.

“They want to make it an emphasis in preseason, and I’m happy it didn’t cost us a real game. We’ve just got to continue to keep our head out of things and I think we’ll make that adjustment."

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