It would have been enough to sink a lesser team with lesser men.
Not only did the Eagles fall to 2-5 after their loss to the Raiders in Vegas, but Fletcher Cox, one of their all-time great players, a captain and the team’s highest-paid player publicly voiced his frustration with the new defensive scheme.
You can see how that could have snowballed.
The fact that it didn’t is commendable. Cox and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon deserve a ton of credit for how they handled the situation with professionalism and how that helped turn the season around.
Cox, 31, didn’t try to hide his displeasure with Gannon’s scheme earlier in the year. And after that loss to the Raiders in late October, things started to bubble over.
“I’m an aggressive player and that’s how I make my living, playing in the backfield and splitting double teams and not used to double teams staying on me 2, 3 yards down the field. That’s just frustration,” Cox said in late October.
“And when you get frustrated and get tired of 600, 700 pounds laying on you, you want to do something about it. Obviously, being the player I am, I can only take so much and I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to be aggressive.”
When asked if he’d talk to Gannon about his concerns with the scheme, Cox said he didn’t think that was his job.
It looked like a stalemate that had potential to turn ugly. And it was probably part of the reason why it looked like Cox might get traded before the deadline a few days later.
But the trade deadline came and went and Cox was still an Eagle. Even though Cox said he didn’t think it was his job to talk to his coaches about scheme, Gannon knew one of his jobs was getting one of his best players to buy in. So he talked to him anyway.
And Gannon didn’t just dismiss his player. He said he understood what Cox was saying.
“He’s got good points,” Gannon said that week. “I need to do a better job of that (deploying Cox in a way that plays to his strengths). And the key thing with that is, player and coach, coach and player, how we do that and how we go about that? He’s had some very good ideas as have some other players had some very good ideas. And then it’s up to us as coaches to get that done and execute those things.”
Since that week, the Eagles have won 7 of 9 games and punched their ticket to the postseason. They were surely aided by facing lesser competition, but the defense has improved greatly and Cox has played much better.
No, maybe Cox isn’t playing at the Pro Bowl level we’ve seen from him during most of his Eagles career, but he’s been more effective.
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In Week 15, we saw how far these two had come. Not only did Cox play multiple positions in that game, but he was allowed to attack and he did. Against Washington, he had 2 sacks, 4 QB hits and 1 forced fumble; it was his best game of the season. After Cox’s dominant performance, Gannon couldn’t help but smile when announcing that Cox was going to be named the team’s defensive player of the week.
“He train-wrecked the game,” Gannon said.
For Cox, this situation boiled down to professionalism. He wasn’t happy; he was telling you he wasn’t happy, but he was determined to put his head down and go to work without causing a fuss. Even if he and Gannon never saw eye to eye, Cox wasn’t going to become a problem.
For Gannon, it comes down to emotional intelligence. Jeffrey Lurie would be proud. Because the first-year DC knew he needed to walk a tightrope and he did so masterfully.
Maybe Cox gets traded after this season anyway and these two never work together after this playoff run. It’s very possible. But the fact that they found a way to co-exist this season helped turn things around and get them in the playoffs. It speaks volumes about both.