Fletcher Cox setting big goals for his season
It’s no secret that Cox is one of the scariest guys to line up against as an offensive lineman. Even when double teamed he is still disruptive. He was selected to the last three Pro Bowls, he is a Super Bowl champion, he’s had several All-Pro Honors selections, but now Cox has big goals set. He has his eyes on Defensive Player of the Year.
Cox’s early career
Fletch grew up in Mississippi where he became a superstar on the football field in high school. He ranked as the number five weakside defensive end in the country and the number two prospect in the state of Mississippi. He chose to stay in his home state and attend Mississippi State instead of accepting offers from LSU, Auburn, or Alabama.
His junior year at Mississippi he was selected as an All-American after recording 26 solo tackles, 30 assisted tackles, five sacks, and one forced fumble and fumble recovery. The Eagles selected Cox 12th overall after trading up in the 2012 NFL draft.
Making an impact in a slow rookie year
Cox’s rookie year was the last year of the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia. The team finished the season with a 4-12 record. In the 15 games he played, Fletch still managed to be effective, recording 39 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, four passes deflected, and one forced fumble.
Most memorably, was his ejection from a game against the Detroit Lions his rookie year after throwing punches. He recorded nothing but one pass deflected in that matchup.
What Chip Kelly and the 3-4 defense brought for Cox
Cox is a defensive tackle by trade. He is most effective on the inside of the line. When Kelly came to town (groan) he changed the defense to a 3-4 and Fletch was moved to defensive end. It was noticeable that Cox was not meant to come off the end. In 16 games he only recorded 41 total tackles, three sacks and one pass deflected.
As time went on, however, the 2012 first-round pick adjusted to the change in scheme. In 2014, Cox bounced back with 61 tackles, four sacks, and one forced fumble. This was the year the name “Fletcher Cox” became widely known around the NFL.
In 2015, Cox had his best year that earned him his big extension. In the last year of the Kelly era, and in a season where the team went 7-9, The former Mississippi State Bulldog recorded 71 tackles, 9.5 sacks, two passes deflected and three forced fumbles. He was also selected to his first Pro Bowl, ranked 49th on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016 list. He also received the Ed Block Courage Award. This award goes to the player who exemplifies courage and sportsmanship, voted on by his teammates. Cox played his heart out in 2015 after losing his brother in the offseason.
In 2015, Fletcher Cox led the Eagles defense in sacks, TFLs, and QB hurries (32), while tying for the team lead in forced fumbles.
— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) June 13, 2016
After this season, he signed a 6-year $103 million extension with $63 million guaranteed. This keeps him under contract as an Eagle until 2023.
Enter Doug Pederson
With the firing of Kelly and hiring of Pederson and Jim Schwartz as his defensive coordinator, the scheme switched back to a 4-3. This allowed Cox back inside where he is most effective. Unfortunately, because it was so widely known how talented Cox was, he had a slight “down” year due to consistent double teams by offensive linemen. Even though many considered it a “down year”, he still was able to record 6.5 sacks, two passes deflected, 43 tackles, and one forced fumble.
Let’s keep in mind that team as a whole struggled mightily through 2016. There were pieces in place but they needed to work together a little bit better. There were flashes of brilliance but it hadn’t quite gelled yet. Cox heard the chatter, he knew what people were thinking after getting a huge paycheck that it was a waste. Fletch had big goals for 2017, as did the entire team.
A Super Bowl winning defense
Cox came out firing in the opener against the Redskins in 2017. It was clear that this defense was no joke, and these guys were lights out. Cox faced a double team most of the day, as expected. He still managed to get a sack, forced a fumble, and recovered the fumble for a touchdown. And that was just the beginning. In a year that the defensive rotation was sometimes the key to success via fresh legs, Cox finished the season with 26 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, two passes deflected, and a forced fumble. He also recorded 34 quarterback hurries.
One of the most impressive things about Cox is his ability to fight through the double team and get his body and arms in the quarterback’s way, causing disruption while fighting through two blocks. Watching the way he is able to penetrate through the offensive line and constantly be around the quarterback is ridiculous. Not only that, Cox is fast for a big guy. You’ll always see him moving quickly. He is just a fantastic athlete all around.
Big goals stemming from a bigger role
Although Cox has been the leader on the defense from a stats perspective, he really has never been a guy who wanted a true leadership role in the locker room. In the more recent years that has changed. This year, the Eagles named Fletch the defensive captain. When asked about how Cox has embraced his role as captain, Pederson said, “a lot of it just comes through maturity, growing up in the league, more responsibility.” He also said as a head coach, he looks to lean on guys like Fletch to help get the job done and step up when needed.
"He's embraced that and I have seen him embrace that in his willingness to be at OTAs, obviously training camp, and through these first 3 weeks." – Doug Pederson on Fletcher Cox becoming more of a leader
— 975TheFanatic (@975TheFanatic) September 26, 2018
When talking to Eagles Insider, Dave Spadaro about this offseason, Fletch said he worked on “quickness, being explosive, getting in and out of turns, changing direction” and more. He wanted to work on the little things to continue to be great and dominate. Now, Fletch has bigger goals. He is very humble when it comes to accolades, but it does bother him slightly he is never in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. He wants that to change. That is one of the big goals he’s got his eye on. He wants that title, and he eventually wants the Hall of Fame. Coach Pederson said he “loves” that guys set those kinds of standards and goals for themselves. He likes the high standards players set. He said “he’s a player that’s on track” for that accolade as well.
How these big goals are impacting his play so far in 2018
Cox has taken extra steps to enhance his play. He worked hard in the offseason focusing on football techniques. He also cut out all junk food from his diet. This has helped him not only get penetration and close in on the quarterback but also made him faster and more agile stopping screens that a guy over 300 lbs shouldn’t be able to stop.
Mike Vrabel called Fletcher Cox one of the best defenders in the league regardless of position.
— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) September 26, 2018
Cox has been nothing short of dominant through the first three weeks of 2018. So far he has 12 total tackles and three sacks. The only guys with more sacks? Myles Garrett, Cameron Jordan, Von Miller, Khalil Mack with four and DeForest Buckner with 3.5. Right now Cox ranks as one of the top interior defensive linemen in the league. This puts him on track to surpass all of his previous career highs by setting these big goals.
Leaders in QB hits (as of Week 4)
Fletcher Cox: 9
Jason Pierre-Paul: 8
Geno Atkins: 7
JJ Watt: 7
Sheldon Richardson: 7
Melvin Ingram: 7
TJ Watt: 7
Jonathan Allen: 7
Za'Darius Smith: 6
Jerry Hughes: 6
DeMarcus Lawrence: 6
Dee Ford: 6
DeForest Buckner: 6
Gerald McCoy: 6
— Johnny Kinsley (@Brickwallblitz) September 26, 2018
Stats from NFL.com, Sports-Reference.com
Featured Image: Justin Rocke via Flickr