It’s been a strange 12 months for Fletcher Cox. He had a career-season in 2018, amassing 10.5 sacks and was able to reach that milestone despite a total lack of depth around him. But in the playoff loss to New Orleans, he suffered a foot injury that required surgery and would keep him out the entire offseason.
The injury itself was naturally concerning. Would Cox be ready to go for week 1, or is depth going to be an issue again? Going into 2019, only Aaron Donald and Geno Atkins had racked up more pressures than Cox among all DT’s over the last three years.
Heroically, Cox returned and was joined by a new face in Malik Jackson and a familiar one in Timmy Jernigan. That sense of security quickly evaporated however, with both players picking up injuries in the early stages of the season, once again leaving Cox to carry the interior pass-rush on his shoulders.
It was naturally a slower start for Cox in terms of production, but the pressure and impact were still as dominant as ever. But in recent weeks, the franchise defensive tackle has looked back to his best. With 2.5 sacks, and 3 TFL in the last four weeks, Cox has surged back to the rampant force that we’ve come to know and love, and that’s despite someone trying to break into his home. His form hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.
“I think Fletch [DT Fletcher Cox] is obviously being a lot more impactful in the game and that’s great to see.” Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “This easily could have been a three and a half-sack game for him. It was a productive game anyway, but there’s still more meat left on that bone.”
His ‘breakout’ couldn’t come at a better time. The NFL trade deadline has come and gone and the Eagles opted to stay put. They’re without three of their four defensive tackles who started the season on the final roster, and instead of sourcing help through the phone-lines, they brought in UDFA and man-mountain, Anthony Rush, and former UDFA Albert Huggins. The Eagles waived Akeem Spence and are now left with a generational talent and a total lack of proven talent at the NFL level.
Sitting at 4-4, the Eagles control their own destiny and have a realistic chance of snatching the NFC East from the clutches of their most bitter rival. To do so, they’ll need Cox to be firing on all cylinders, knowing fully-well that outside of a potential Jernigan return, there’s no more help on the way…at least for now. The good news is, he has a vote of confidence from Jim Schwartz.
“We all expected him to come around.” The Eagles defensive coordinator said on Wednesday. “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. He’s played pretty well and again it’s not just a numbers game, it’s just not whether he’s having sacks. It’s the disruptions, it’s forcing other players — when we played the Jets, I thought he played an outstanding game in that game. It didn’t show up on the scorecard with sacks but like two other sacks that can I think of were a direct result of Fletch being disruptive. So getting him back to that regardless of what his individual stats say, it’s a team game and we’re trying to keep the score down, we’re trying to get off the field on third down and we’re trying to create turnovers, and he can help us do all three of those things.”
With a sputtering Chicago offense easing the Eagles into games against New England and Seattle before the tough gets going, the Birds will be thankful that arguably their biggest defensive star is shining the brightest he has all year.
Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports