Four tackles used to be just about one drive for Fletcher Cox. This year, it’s his entire season.
Cox, the Eagles’ six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, has been largely invisible so far this year.
He’s played 181 snaps and has five tackles – three solo, two assisted – to show for it, along with no sacks, no tackles for loss and no quarterback hits. He did score a touchdown against the Cowboys when he snagged a Dak Prescott fumble forced by Javon Hargrove in the end zone.
But when it comes to stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback? Which is why the Eagles gave Cox a $100 million contract?
It’s just not happening.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will be available on Tuesday, but on Monday head coach Nick Sirianni addressed Cox’s quiet four-game start and compared him to a talented offensive player who isn’t getting the ball. His point was that the Eagles’ defensive coaches have to find ways to help Cox make plays.
“With Fletch, one of our conversations that we had with the defensive staff (Monday) was… if we have a playmaker on offense that can really make a lot of plays, and we're not throwing the ball or handing the ball to him, how do we fix that?” Sirianni said. “How do we make it better? I get it, there's only one football. You guys get that. There's only one football and you can only do so much. Same thing on defense.
“How are we letting our playmakers make plays? It starts with coaching. We got to do a better job of letting our playmakers make plays. We have to do some different things to help free him up.”
Cox is a six-time Pro Bowler and has averaged 6.0 sacks, 45 tackles, 7.9 tackles for loss and 14 ½ quarterback hits in his first nine NFL seasons.
Hargrave, meanwhile, is performing like Cox in his prime. He’s got five sacks, six tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits and that forced fumble.
The more Cox fails to produce, the more the double teams he’s drawn his entire career will swing over to Hargrave. We’re already starting to see that.
But the biggest concern with Cox is that he just hasn’t been effective against the run, and the Eagles are getting gashed on the ground.
Gannon’s defense, which generally features two deep safeties to limit big plays, demands that the interior linemen and linebackers handle run defense since there’s no safety in the box.
But that hasn’t happened.
Opposing teams are averaging 4.4 yards per carry against the Eagles and 150 yards per game – 2nd-worst in the league. The Eagles have already allowed 38 rushing first downs, 2nd-most in the league (behind the Chiefs’ 39).
In explaining Cox’s struggles, Sirianni also referenced the linebackers’ struggles. No surprise there.
“There's a lot of attention going to Fletch,” Sirianni said. “It's freeing up Javon on the other side. It's freeing up some other guys to make plays. Javon has done a really good job of making plays. Our linebackers have to continue to do their part of this, too.
“When Fletch gets double-teamed, Javon has to make a play, the linebacker has to make a play. We got to do more to get him singled a little bit more, but we also got to make the plays with the players when they're not singled and be able to flow and get to the football.
“I know the stats aren't there, but I know he's changing the game. He's doing things to help us even though the stats aren't there. But like I said, we have to make sure we're allowing him to eat as well.”
There are 96 NFL defensive linemen who’ve started at least three games this year.
Only four have fewer tackles than Cox.
Of those 96, Cox is one of only eight that has no sacks, tackles for loss or quarterback hits. And he’s the only one of the eight who’s been to a Pro Bowl. Much less six of them.
Cox missed some practice time going into the Dallas game with an illness and said he lost a lot of weight and wasn’t 100 percent by gametime. So maybe he’s still not quite 100 percent.
But he’s 30, he’s in his 10th season, he’s been banged up a lot in recent years and generally when a 30-something player starts to decline the process doesn’t reverse itself.
The Eagles don’t have many elite players, especially on defense. Now they just may have to deal with the reality that they have one fewer than they thought.
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