Fletcher Cox’s quest for recognition started with a bang and we may be in for a monster season for the eighth-year pro. Debate surrounding the Defensive Player of the Year Award is months away, but he’s already building his resume for when the time comes. In the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles 18-12 win over the Atlanta Falcons, Cox showcased the quality of play that he’ll need to carry him to the award ceremony.
VS. THE RUN...
There’s plenty to talk about regarding Cox’s pass rush performance, but it was in the run game where he made his presence felt early in the game.
Fletcher Cox, lined up over the right tackle, dude is going to have a monster season. pic.twitter.com/1lphGiDaVU— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) September 8, 2018
That’s a 310-pound man nimble enough to absorb a cut block, pop up and make a play at the goal-line from across the formation. That’s special stuff. Without the cat-like quickness of the big man, it’s not a sure thing that Derek Barnett is able to finish this rep despite being in good position after spinning off his block.
There’s always been talk about Cox’s sack numbers not being representative of his game as a whole. Cox supporters will point to how much attention he garners from the opposing offensive line; and they’re not wrong.
I charted all 46 of his pass rush snaps and counted each time he was doubled or received a slide his way and took meaningful contact from a second blocker. These are not official numbers by any means, but based on what I saw, Cox was blocked by more than one lineman 27 times. TWENTY. SEVEN.
What that type of gravitational pull allows you to do as a defense is predict with accuracy where the pass protection slide will go. That was the case in the Super Bowl when Brandon Graham was allowed to rush one-on-one with guard Shaq Mason. The Eagles knew if Cox played over the guard he would get a center sliding his way, which cleared room Graham on a plus match-up.
The same scenario played out over and over against the Falcons. One beneficiary of this offensive tendency was Jordan Hicks, who came flying through on a blitz and made short work of running back Devonta Freeman.
As a defensive linemen, it’s easy to fire off the ball, blow by your man and, without thinking, attack up-field believing you’ve got a free run for a sack. But as a defensive lineman, if you find yourself in that situation, you have to ask why. Why are you being given a free run? In most cases, it’s because you’re being tricked.
What makes linemen like Cox (and Grady Jarrett) stand out on tape is their ability to quickly process the action around them and get themselves into the correct spot. They don’t take the bait because they ask why.
Cox isn’t done with his initial move before he realizes something is askew. Given all the attention being thrown his way, for him to receive such gigantic runway is a big flag. Plus, Freeman is leaking out to the flats, another flag. Cox’s mental processing is an underrated aspect to his game.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cox registered 7 pressures, tied with Minnesota Vikings’ Sheldon Richardson for most among interior linemen in Week 1. Remember, he received extra attention on 27 of those 46 snaps. When he was singled up, he looked unstoppable for much of the game.
This isn’t even Cox’s best pass rush of the game; far from it actually. Still, the pure strength on display to push a pocket even when his initial move stalls out it impressive.
When he wins immediately, that’s when things get scary for a quarterback.
This sack came on 3rd & 5 with the Eagles up 4 points early in the 4th quarter. Unfortunately it was wiped out due to Barnett lining up offsides, but from an evaluation standpoint that has no impact on Cox.
Alex Mack is a former first round pick and five-time Pro Bowler. Cox beat him clean when he got his opportunities. First-step quickness and violent hands are his calling card, and they showed up in this match-up all game.
Alex Mack is a very good center, y'all.. sheesh Cox - pic.twitter.com/2WrJgr6Obf— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) September 8, 2018
The box score shows 1 sack, PFF shows 7 pressures, and that’s not even the whole story. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz seems willing to aid Cox in his quest, giving him an abnormally high 93% of the teams’ defensive snaps. If he continues at this usage and quality of play, the sacks and pressures will stack up and Cox will have his name firmly in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.