The Eagles were mostly silent before this year’s trade deadline, which means they’ll be relying on their current team and returning injured players to get them into the playoffs.
No two players will be more important than Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham.
If the Eagles are going to make a second-half push into the playoffs, they’re going to need their two longest-tenured defensive players to dominate.
The good news is that they have already started. Both Cox and Graham had slow starts to their 2019 seasons but have picked it up recently.
• After failing to record a sack in his first four games, Graham has five sacks in his last four games.
• And Cox, after failing to get a sack in his first six games, has 2½ in his last two and could have had even more against the Bills. Sunday was Cox’s most dominant performance of 2019 so far.
It’s not all about sacks, but they can be a good indicator of success and they are, no question, huge plays.
For a team that’s entire defense is predicated on getting pass rush with the front four, that’s huge. When Jim Schwartz was forced to blitz more earlier in the season, it left their back end exposed. Pressure from Cox and Graham can change all that.
While Graham’s slow start was harder to explain, Cox had offseason toe surgery and he clearly wasn’t himself early in the year. Heck, in the Detroit game in Week 3, he failed to record a single statistic in the box score.
“We all expected him to come around,” Schwartz said. “Maybe it's taken a little longer than he had in mind, but he came back from a pretty significant injury and missed all of training camp. I think it just goes to show you it's hard to just pick right up at that point and be back to the player that we saw in the New Orleans game at the end of the year last year. But each game he's trended a little bit better.”
Schwartz noted that Cox could have had a 3½-sack game against the Bills, which would have been a career high. As it was, he had 1½, but finally looked like the dominant Pro Bowler the Eagles need him to be.
With three young players playing alongside him in Buffalo, Cox said he felt like he needed to be a “tone-setter” against the Bills. He definitely was.
Graham’s season got a kick-start against the lowly Jets, when he recorded a three-sack game. Even if you’re hesitant to give him too much credit for that game against an awful opponent, he still has two sacks in his last three. And his strip on Josh Allen wasn’t a sack on Sunday, but it was the turning point of that incredibly important game.
Everyone thought Graham was gone after last season, but then he signed a three-year, $40 million deal in the offseason. That was a questionable move, giving that kind of money to a 31-year-old veteran, but he’s starting to earn it. And we all know the financial commitment in Cox; it’s massive. But he’s worth it and he’s starting to play like it again.
This season is the ninth together for Cox, 28, and Graham, 31. Just Jason Peters has been in Philly longer than Graham. And just Peters, Graham and Jason Kelce have been here longer than Cox. There’s being invested and then there’s being in the same city with your linemate for the better part of a decade.
At 4-4, the Eagles still have a very real chance to make the playoffs. If they do, these two all-time Eagles will need to play a big role.
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