Fletcher Cox is off to a quiet start in 2021. And that’s putting it mildly.
Through four games, Cox has just five tackles, no sacks, no tackles for loss, no quarterback hits.
“I could be better. I know I can be better,” Cox said on Wednesday. “That’s a problem I have to fix. Embrace whatever we’re doing and make the best of it.”
Is this just natural regression for a 30-year-old defensive tackle coming off six straight Pro Bowl seasons or is Jonathan Gannon’s defense not utilizing the Eagles’ highest-paid player?
Cox is being asked to do different things under Gannon than he was under Jim Schwartz.
“Sometimes I play in the 3-technique, sometimes I play in the 4i,” Cox said. “It’s just one of them things where it’s hard to get settled in, in a game when you’re playing so many positions and doing so many things.”
It’s hard to get settled in.
Cox seemed to be expressing some concern about his role in Gannon’s defense. Under Schwartz, the Eagles ran an ultra-aggressive four-man front and Cox was predominantly a 3-technique. Under Gannon, Cox is still playing a lot of 3-technique as a 4-3 defensive tackle but he’s also being asked to line up over the tackle in three-man fronts.
Aside from that, the line isn’t asked to be quite as aggressive getting up field in this scheme as it was in recent seasons. There’s more reacting involved.
When asked if this new defense is playing to his strengths, Cox gave a little chuckle before answering the question.
“We do a lot of different things,” he said. “All I can do is prepare for it week in and week out.”
Gannon said they like to move Cox around because he creates difficult and different matchups at different spots.
But would Cox rather “settle in” to one spot?
“Whatever they ask me to do, man,” Cox said. “I’m going to do it to my best ability. I’m going to be a pro about it, be very professional about it, go out and make the best of it.”
Through four games, Cox is ranked as the No. 84 interior defensive lineman in the league, according to ProFootballFocus. He has been credited with just five total hurries this season.
Last week, he missed practice with an illness that left him weaker. But he still needs to produce more. The Eagles need him to produce more.
“I would say Fletch is doing a good job right now,” Gannon said. “Again people know that we play with Fletcher Cox, so they do certain things that you typically don't see on tape. What we get, certain teams do not get because of our personnel.
“So it's always a constant, ‘Hey, let's try to find ways to, free up Fletch or get Fletch going.’ But I thought -- he's playing good. And, again, the production -- guys, we're four weeks through, the production will come. I'm not worried about the production from Fletch.”
The one thing Cox has done this year is continue to draw double teams. That has helped Javon Hargrave get off to a quick start (five sacks in four games) thanks to seeing more 1-on-1s.
But the Eagles aren’t paying Cox to simply draw double teams. They are paying him to produce.
Whether it’s on Cox or scheme, the Eagles need more from the guy who’s supposed to be their best defensive player.
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