When he’s at his best, Fletcher Cox is a no-doubt All-Pro, one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL and the Eagles’ best player.
Cox is clearly not at his best right now.
And, boy, do the Eagles miss him.
In Sunday’s 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions, Cox played 46 defensive snaps and didn’t register a single statistic in the box score. No tackles, sacks, QB hits, batted passes, nothing. Not a one.
Just twice before in his career has Cox recorded a blank stat line in a start: Once in 2012 in 20 snaps and once in 2017 when he left after just three snaps.
So Sunday was the worst statistical game so far in what might end up being a Hall of Fame career.
“I think Fletcher, he's coming [along] and I'm not concerned with him at all,” head coach Doug Pederson said Monday. “I'm excited actually of where he's at health-wise and how he's practicing and things like that. He's obviously a top defender, top player for us, and I think his best ball's ahead of him.”
His best ball better be ahead of him. And it better be in the not-so-distant future. If it isn’t, the Eagles are in trouble.
Cox, 28, had offseason surgery on his toe from an injury suffered in the divisional round playoff game against the Saints. While he returned for Week 1 after missing the entire summer, he hasn’t looked like the guy who has been a Pro Bowler for four years running. So the slow start isn’t his fault, but his play needs to pick up.
On Monday, when asked about Cox’s slow start, Pederson brought up Brandon Graham, who had a similar situation last year. Graham had offseason ankle surgery and stumbled out of the gate in 2018, failing to record his first sack until Oct. 5. But without Graham, the Eagles at least had other rushers, including Cox, to pick up the slack.
Through three games, the entire Eagles defense has just two sacks. Cox had more than that on his own in the first three games of 2018!
And look at the difference for Cox year to year:
First 3 games of 2018: 3 sacks, 12 tackles, 3 TFLs, 8 QB hits
First 3 games of 2019: 0 sacks, 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 QB hits
Heck, the entire Eagles team through three games in 2019 has just two sacks, 11 TFLs and 17 QB hits total. Without pass rush from the front four, Jim Schwartz has been forced to send more pressure. Cox is supposed to be the motor that gets that line going.
After Sunday’s game, Cox acknowledged that the Eagles' pass rush isn’t getting to the quarterback and said he knows he isn’t getting there fast enough.
“I can’t be disappointed in myself, because at the end of the day, I’m out there giving everything that I have,” Cox said Sunday night. “I’m just doing my job and doing what the coaches have asked me to do. Sometimes a player can try to do so much and he can end up making a mistake or you feel the pressure and end up doing way too much. I just try to do my job and be as disruptive as I can be. At the end of the day, I have to get to the quarterback, and I’m not doing a good job there right now.”
Aside from Cox not being himself, the two players who were supposed to play next to him went down in the first two weeks of the season. Malik Jackson suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 1 and Tim Jernigan broke his foot in Week 2 and will miss at least a month. So now when Cox gets doubled — and it’s happening quite often — there’s less of a chance the other guy will be able to take advantage of a 1-on-1.
And because Cox isn’t himself, he’s going to have trouble beating the now near-constant doubles teams.
Cox is not the only Eagle coming back from injury. The Eagles also have Nigel Bradham, Ronald Darby, Derek Barnett and Brandon Brooks returning from injuries that required surgery and some of them don’t look quite back either. But with Cox, it’s just been very apparent because he’s normally so, so good.
The Eagles desperately need him to get back to that level soon.
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