During the 2019 season, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz joked that his defensive tackles were dropping like Spinal Tap drummers.
The Eagles haven’t quite reached that situation in 2020 but they’re already dealing with a couple injuries at the position. They were already without Malik Jackson (quad) last week and then lost Hassan Ridgeway for the year with a biceps injury.
That left Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave as their two healthy defensive tackles from the beginning of the season.
“So we're going to have to have some other guys step up into those roles,” Schwartz said on Tuesday. “T.Y. [McGill] has played a couple games for us this year and has given us some quality snaps. We'll just see where we get to on Sunday with the rest of those guys, but obviously it's an important position for us. It will probably put more snaps on guys like Fletch or Hargrave or Malik when he gets back healthy.
“But you know us, we like to spread those reps around and keep guys as fresh as we can. It will definitely be something we'll be looking at and trying to find the best way forward with that.”
Through the first seven games of the 2020 season, Cox has played 373 of 492 defensive snaps (76%) and it might be time for Cox to see the field a little more, kind of like he did in 2019.
Through the first half of last year, Cox played 389 of 526 defensive snaps (74.0%) but stayed on the field way more in the second half of the season, when he played 413 of 490 snaps (84.3%).
If the Eagles ask the 29-year-old to pick up his snaps this year, he’s ready for it.
"Absolutely, I just go out there and I just play,” Cox said this week. “When it's time for me to come out, Coach (DL coach Matt) Burke does a great job of rotating guys, no matter who's out there, you know for guys on the sideline fresh and ready to roll, you just rotate that guy in and depending on how the series is going depending on the flow of the game.
“You know, I trust those guys, they trust me to tell them, 'Hey, look, you know I need to come out on this,' or let [McGill] have it or whoever that guy is, whoever that guy may be that's in the rotation. Matt does a great job of, you know, trying to keep guys fresh and really depending on how the flow of the game is going."
Of course, the drop-off from Cox to McGill is significant. There’s a reason Cox is a starter, a Pro Bowler and is the Eagles’ highest-paid defensive player.
That brings us to the next topic: How well has Cox been playing in 2020?
Schwartz on Tuesday made sure to point out that sacks don’t always tell the full story. It’s a common refrain from defensive coaches and defensive linemen. Watch the pressure, don’t watch the sacks. But after a season with 3 1/2 sacks, Cox is on that same pace again. He had 10 1/2 in 2018.
Through seven games, he has just 1 1/2 sacks, 4 QB hits and 5 TFLs. Sometimes stats, in general, don’t tell the full story. ProFootballFocus right now ranks Cox as the 13th-best interior DL in the NFL among qualified players, which is good but also out of the top 10. Last year, Cox was eighth. Two years ago, he was second.
Cox is still playing well and he’s getting a ton of attention from opposing offenses. But it’s also probably fair to say the Eagles need a little more out of him. It seems like he’s going to get even more opportunity the rest of the season.