Cox looking to regain ‘dynamic’ early-season form
Mention “few” and “far between” to Fletcher Cox, and the Eagles’ defensive tackle immediately thinks about two major issues — his diminishing sacks total and just one victory in the last five games.
The NFC defensive player of the month for September with three sacks is just one-for-October and November.
Let’s start with Cox’s pass rush, or lack thereof. It bothers him because he knows he’s better than what’s he’s shown lately, which is nothing really, statistically. That’s not a lot of return on the record six-year, $103 million contract extension he signed last summer.
“I’ve got to be better,” Cox said. “I had a few chances last week. I had chances in previous weeks but I just didn’t get there. It’s a thing where I got them early and now I’ve hit a wall. I think I’ll be alright. I know I’ll be alright. I’ve just got to keep pushing and put myself in position to get there.”
Cox had three sacks and six hurries in three games in September. In the five games since, he has one sack and eight hurries. All of the sacks came while Bennie Logan also was in the lineup. More on that later.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz defended Cox, explaining how his player “made some dynamic plays against the run” in the loss to the Giants this past Sunday.
“Part of the facts of life when you’re in the NFL is when you’re a good player, you’re going to get attention,” Schwartz said, likening Cox’s struggles to the old sophomore slump. “It’s not so much that a guy is in a slump it’s just that everybody else is paying attention to him now. And I think Fletch has to deal with that. When you’re a dynamic pass rusher in the NFL, when you can make an impact, offensive line coaches are going to start their game plan with No. 91. Offensive coordinators are going to do that. I think you just have to keep on going and know that there’s other ways that you can contribute.
“But we certainly rely on Fletch to make a lot of plays for us,” Schwartz continued. “And he’s played well. His numbers haven’t been as eye-popping as they were in the first month of the year.”
Schwartz didn’t mention it but the loss of defensive tackle Logan, who hopes to return this week, almost certainly has impacted Cox.
In the four games Logan missed, including the Washington contest in which he barely played, Cox contributed zero sacks and five hurries.
“Bennie was playing at a really high level before he got hurt,” Schwartz said. “Not just against the run. Against the pass, also. But
I thought (substitute) Beau Allen has raised his level since Bennie’s been down. To have a four-man rotation in there will mean a lot more. Having a threeman rotation has worn us down in games. You’re not as fresh at the end of the game as you would like to be and hopefully we can get back to that.”
Logan had two sacks and five hurries while healthy. He returned to practice on a full-time basis Wednesday, having successfully rehabbed a groin injury.
Cox conceded “things are different” with a new starter but praised the work of Allen, whom he said has been “playing at a high level.”
Regardless of who plays tackle, the Eagles have to stop the run and disrupt Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who has been sacked
22 times in nine games, to have a chance to beat Atlanta on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. Ryan leads the league in most major passing categories including touchdown passes, with 23, and passer rating, a sizzling 119.0. Running back Devonta Freeman is a dual threat.
“I think we’ve just got to play our game,” Cox said. “I think this is the best offense that we will face all year. They’ve got a pretty good running back. Matty Ice is playing at a very high level now. He’s throwing the ball to Julio (Jones) and they’ve got a whole lot of balance right now. I think in order for us to stop them we’ve got to be able to stop Freeman.”
The Falcons have a roster full of capable pass catchers, proof positive their total of five dropped passes on the season. Only three teams have fewer drops.
To make it tougher on the Falcons, the Eagles have to hang in against the run and get to Ryan, which won’t be easy as the Atlanta offensive line was upgraded immensely with Alex Mack coming in to play center. Cox can expect some tough double teams.
“I just have to embrace it and find a way to get to the quarterback,” Cox said. “At this point right now I think the most important thing to me is winning a football game. Sacks, the numbers, all that stuff I don’t really get caught up in. Those things will come. When we’re winning, that’s when teams have a lot of sacks. Right now I think the main focus of this team needs to be getting a win. We’ve dropped two in a row, and that’s been my main focus, to gain a number in the win column.”
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (91) needs to get back to effectively harassing opposing quarterbacks, like this lick he put on Carolina’s Cam Newton.