Outside of the Philadelphia region, defensive end Fletcher Cox doesn't get a lot of love. He was a Pro Bowl snub last year. He wasn't mentioned for the All-Pro team. He plays in a 3-4 defense, which limits his pass rushing chances and puts him in the shadow of guys like J.J. Watt.
So after a game like the one he had Sunday, in which he registered six solo tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery, you'll have to forgive Cox for the big grin he sported in the locker room.
"It’s a whole bunch of excitement for me and for this team," Cox said following the Philadelphia Eagles' 39-17 win over the New Orleans Saints. "Three sacks is pretty big for me. I’m still smiling ear to ear. I can’t believe it. It’s a great thing. We got the win, which is most important thing, and let’s move on to next week."
Through the first five games of the season, the Eagles defense has been, by far, the team's most effective unit. Only the New York Jets ran for more than 100 total yards against the Eagles this season, and the pass defense has been steadily improving since being torched by the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1. At the heart of this has been Cox.
When the Eagles changed coaches and Cox moved from defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense to defensive end in a 3-4, there was some worry that it was a waste of Cox's talents. And it is true that the work he's asked to do now is less glamorous. But in many ways, it's the engine that allows the defense to perform the way it does--even in the back end.
"You can just watch him play and see what he means to our team," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "He had a huge day. A lot of the time he probably doesn't get all of the glory he deserves along with our whole defensive line. Rarely do I have to make tackles deep in the secondary ... the defensive line is a huge part of our defense."
Cox's ability to both stop the run and rush the passer came in handy on Sunday. The Saints as a team ran for only 96 yards, and the Eagles' five sacks on Brees were the most the team has logged in one game all year. That defensive performance was enough to keep the Saints offense from threatening for most of the game. The Saints scored two touchdowns all game: one in the first quarter, and one at the very end of the game, when they were already down by 29.
So while Eagles fans probably shouldn't expect this kind of performance every week from Cox, they can at this point expect that Cox will impact the game, even if it doesn't show up on the stat sheet.
"I hope the outside world recognizes the talent that he has," said defensive coordinator Bill Davis. "He's a Pro Bowl-caliber player. I've been around a long time, and that's what they look like. They play the run and they cause disruptions in the passing game. Sack numbers come and go, but he has the skill set."
After the game he just had, it would be hard for the rest of the league to deny Cox any longer.