Fletcher Cox

A beautiful, fitting reward for Brandon Graham

A beautiful, fitting reward for Brandon Graham

MINNEAPOLIS — A few days before Super Bowl LII, Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson sat at a round table in a dingy, poorly-lit corner of a giant empty storage room at the Mall of America and preached patience. 

He preached that even if his players weren't getting to Tom Brady for the first quarter or first half or even until the very end, they couldn't stop trying. Eventually their moment would come. 

He was right. 

"You don't get to beat the G.O.A.T. every day," Wilson said late Sunday night, wearing a smile to go along with his new Super Bowl champs gear as he walked out of the victorious locker room in the bowels of U.S. Bank Stadium. 

Brandon Graham listened to his coach. He was patient. After the Eagles hadn't sacked Brady all night, after they had barely gotten a finger on him, Graham pulled off one of the biggest plays in the Eagles' 41-33 Super Bowl win (see breakdown). His patience is a big reason there's going to be a parade down Broad Street (see celebration).

With just over two minutes remaining in Super Bowl LII, Graham came around and knocked the ball out of Brady's hands. From there, Derek Barnett was able to scoop it up and the Eagles were able to hold on for their first Lombardi Trophy (see Roob's observations)

"The main thing was, I told Brandon and Chris (Long) to just do their thing," Fletcher Cox said. "I told them to do whatever they want. I just tried to get a push up the middle to cause some disruption and [I told him to just do] what Brandon Graham does. Making plays. Those are the things we talk about, just playing together and sticking together as a unit. Nobody is trying their own gain. I think at the end of the day, that's what it came down to — everyone just playing together." 

Graham's sack was the only one the Eagles' heralded defensive line had all game. It was the only one it needed. 

Brady and the Patriots put up an astounding 613 total offensive yards, the most any team has ever had in a Super Bowl. And it didn't matter. 

"We don't care how many yards we gave up," Malcolm Jenkins said. "We were just trying to win."

As Brady and the Patriots spent most of Sunday night in a shootout with Nick Foles and the Eagles' offense, Graham and his defensive line teammates were just trying to heed the words of advice from their position coach. 

Stay patient. 

Stay patient. 

Stay patient. 

"We knew," Graham said. "We knew that Tom Brady was going to try to take us out of the game. We knew we were going to have an opportunity in there where he was going to have to hold the ball. We just kept working, kept working, not getting frustrated, we had to keep talking to each other. 'Hey, we're going to make a play, we're going to win this thing.' People believed and at the end of the day, we won the game and we just kept staying strong."

After Graham knocked the ball free and it was loose on the vibrant green turf that would soon be covered in Lombardi Trophy-shaped confetti, the Eagles needed a rookie to do his job. They needed Barnett to fall on it. 

"What's going through my head?" Barnett said, repeating the question. "Secure the ball. Secure the ball and then try to score."

Barnett wasn't able to get to the end zone, but the Eagles' offense got the ball back, killed some time and then the defense held once more.  

It's fitting in a way that Graham's patience paid off in the Eagles' Super Bowl win. For a former first-round pick, who was once deemed a bust, he's certainly come a long way. He's one of the best players on the team, he's one of the most disruptive defensive ends in football, he's become a fan favorite. 

And now he's a world champion. 

He just had to be patient to get there. 

"We about to have a party on Broad Street, baby!" Graham said. "I know they tearing it up now, but we about to come and tear it up some more."

What is Eagles' formula to beat Tom Brady?

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What is Eagles' formula to beat Tom Brady?

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- If the Eagles are going to beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, their defensive line is going to need to be dynamic. 

It's as simple as that. 

Because the Patriots are going to take the field led by Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL, the Eagles' best chance to slow him down is by getting after him, hitting him and making his night miserable. It's not easy, but the front four needs to do it. 

"We look at it like that every week," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "As a defensive line, you have to disrupt the quarterback. As the leader of his team, that's how the offense gets going. Every week that's our standard. That's nothing new to us. We've been saying it all year."

Brady has played in seven Super Bowls and he's won five. The two he lost came to the New York Giants, who also had a dominating front four. 

Earlier this week, we caught up with former Giants pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora, who sees some clear similarities between those Giants teams and this Eagles team (see story). He thinks the Eagles have a real chance to win this game.  

The Eagles' defensive linemen didn't seem to know too much about those Giants' Super Bowl wins. They were young and seem to just remember that incredible David Tyree catch. But defensive line coach Chris Wilson watched and those games have been on his mind recently. 

"We go back and study but we try to go back and study things that are applicable, things that are current now and see how their mindsets were back then," Wilson said. "But so much has changed since those days. The one constant is Bill (Belichick) and Tom, they're consistent. But a lot of the pieces have changed. We go back and take a quick glance at it and see if they have any relevance now. If they do, we use it. If they don't, we just stick to what we have." 

The Eagles' front four has to get after Brady but it can't try to do too much. That's when things could get ugly. They have to be disciplined in their gaps and make sure they're doing what they're supposed to. 

"You just gotta do your job," Vinny Curry said. "Don't try to do nobody else's job. Do your job."

Those who have faced Brady before say that even when they get after him, he never really looks flustered. He might throw a few more incompletions than normal, but you're never going to see him hang his head or get some of the visible signs some other quarterbacks give. Wilson said the key is to just stay patient. 

"We're not blind to the fact, we know what we're up against," said Tim Jernigan, who spent the first few years of his career in the AFC. "I've had my experience playing against this guy. There were times where I beat the guy clean, never touched me, and I still never got to him. The guy is intelligent, he knows exactly where to go with the ball."

During the last two weeks of practice, backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld has been playing the role of Brady for the scout team. Everyone said he did a nice job and the Eagles could certainly use all the help they can get. 

Before these playoffs started, Fletcher Cox talked about how the defensive line is the highest paid unit on the team and the group needed to play like it. Through two games, he and his group certainly have. They have one more game to go. 
  
"I think it's just more magnified," Wilson said. "I think the biggest thing is the jump we made from Year 1 to Year 2. Now it's more magnified because now the whole world's watching. There are not 32 teams playing. Now you're down to that final four, there's more emphasis, there's more eyes on it. This is something I think they've been doing throughout the season."

Remarkable what Eagles' D-line has been through together

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Remarkable what Eagles' D-line has been through together

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — There are six players on the Eagles' active roster who've been here since 2012.

Three of them are Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry.

Which goes a long way toward explaining what makes this Eagles defensive line tick.

They've been through everything together. Reid's firing. Chip's hiring and the Eagles' ascent to playoff team, then the ensuing collapse and Chip's firing. Doug Pederson's arrival and another ascent, this time to Super Bowl team.

Through it all, Cox, Graham and Curry have been together, stuffing the run, rushing the quarterback and forming the nucleus of a team that on Sunday will play for the NFL championship.

"We've all been together so long, and we've all been friends for so long, and we have fun out there," Graham said. "And it's not fake. We all enjoy each other, we respect each other as far as our personalities and what we each bring to the team.

"When you can embrace a guy like that and your trust is based on so many years together, in moments of adversity we already know how to deal with each other, how to stay focused on what we're trying to do."

Graham was the Eagles' first-round draft pick in 2010 and Cox and Curry arrived in the first and second rounds in 2012. The only other guys on the roster who got here during Andy Reid's tenure are Brent Celek in 2007, injured Jason Peters in 2009, Jason Kelce in 2011 and Mychal Kendricks in 2012.

There are only 29 active defensive linemen in the NFL who have played 80 or more games all for the same team. The Eagles have three of those 29. 

"I think it's great when you've got guys that have been around for a long time," Cox said. "The chemistry that we have, the communication that we all work on. I think having been here for so long that on the field it just helps us play that much faster knowing where each guy will be.

"It's a blessing. Me being able to play besides B.G. for so long, man, it's, I mean, there is just so much stuff that we do together. The little things that people don't see, like timing. We're running 3rd and long, I may be outside, he may know I'm outside, and he comes inside and makes the play. I think the little things right there have got us to where we are right now."

Beau Allen arrived in 2014, so he's in his fourth year with this group. Chris Long, Tim Jernigan and rookie Derek Barnett arrived this past offseason.

"Being together this long? It's rare and it's a big positive," Graham said. "It just goes to show you how much the organization values their draft picks and values players that work well together.

"That continuity is big. And me and Vinny both went through adversity early on. Fletch, he didn't go through any adversity, he just jumped right into it.

"But it's cool to be able to stay together this long and overcome adversity. It makes it this much sweeter."

Cox is a two-time second-team all-pro and three-time Pro Bowler and Graham made second-team all-pro this year and should have been on the Pro Bowl team. Curry's stats don't show it, but he had his most consistently productive season this year.

"The biggest art of it is their ability to want to help one another," said Eagles defensive line coach Chris Wilson, who coached Cox at Mississippi State in 2010 and 2011.
 
"There's power in helping each other, and they complement each other very well in that regard, and that's really been their mantra since I've been here: How do we improve and get where we need to.

"The biggest thing is they all have the potential to get sacks, to get turnovers, to make a big play at any point in time."

There are a lot of reasons the Eagles reached Super Bowl LII and will face the Patriots Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

One of the biggest is the dominant performance of this defensive line. The Eagles finished No. 1 in the NFL in rush defense and No. 4 in total defense, takeaways and scoring defense.

"When you've been together as long as we have, we all know what each other is thinking," Curry said. "If we run a crazy stunt, it's natural. You know that guy, how he rushes, where he's going to rush. Fletcher's on my side, I know what he's going to do even before he knows what he's going to do, so I know what I can't do.

"And if I'm wrong, I'll wait till he bitches on the sideline."

Like the Eagles' last great defensive line led by Reggie White, Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons, this group is as competitive as it is close-knit.

"It's a competitive room," Wilson said. "From who's the best dressed to who can bench the most or who can make the most shots in the Pop-a-Shot game in the back of our locker room. And I think that's necessary. These guys really push each other."

Cox, Graham and Curry have been at the bottom of the football world … two different times, in fact.

So leading this team to within one game of a championship is incredibly special to them.

"Just the chemistry, it's unbelievable," Curry said. "At any given moment any player on this d-line can get hot, you know? That's the sweet part about it. It's almost like Golden State. Anybody on that team could make the All-Star team, and they could be, 'Me, me, me, me, but they're not.' They play together.

"And that the one thing about us. We play together. It's bigger than us. It's about getting to the point where we'll be next Sunday. That's all it's about."