Heading into the Los Angeles Ram matchup in week 2, one of the many story lines will be the two All-Pro defensive tackles on display, the Rams’ Aaron Donald and Philly’s Fletcher Cox.
Donald has widely been consider the best interior defensive lineman over the past half decade, but Cox has been right there in terms of production up until last season. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Cox seems to be the one trending in the wrong direction, while Donald is still in the prime of his career.
Despite a solid performance from the defense as a whole in week 1, Cox was nowhere to be found. He finished with zero sacks, zero hits on the quarterback and just two tackles. Jim Schwartz’s group did hold Washington to just 2.2 yards per carry, though, and Cox certainly deserves some credit for that.
Eagles fans and members of the media love to argue that Carson Wentz should be able to lift his mediocre offense despite injuries and an overall lack of talent. Yet when the defensive line is decimated by injuries like they were on Sunday, there’s not one critic questioning why Cox couldn’t pick up the production and create pressure on Dwayne Haskins. I understand that quarterback is the more important position and naturally gets criticized the most, but it seems to me that we’re starting to overlook a glaring issue with Fletcher Cox. He’s just not a dominant force anymore.
After the 2018 season, a season in which Cox had some of the best numbers of his career (10.5 sacks, 34 QB hits and 46 combine tackles), he had to get pretty invasive foot surgery due to a significant foot injury he sustained in the Saints playoff game that year. Because of that surgery, Cox missed essentially all of the OTAs and mini camp practices that offseason. Then once the preseason rolled around, Cox injured his toes, forcing him to miss a significant chunk of training camp and some preseason games.
What followed was one of Cox’s worst years as a pro. He posted his worst sack total (3.5) since his second season and only recorded 10 QB hits, the fewest he’s accumulated since 2014. He did pick up his play towards the end of the 2019 campaign, though, which gave us hope that he’d bounce back and be the dominant player we’re accustomed to seeing. But he looked pretty lack luster in week 1, if not down right bad.
He needs to step up big time in week 2 against the Rams. The Eagles are facing a handful of injuries along their defensive front. Javon Hargrave and Vinny Curry are already ruled out, and Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham could also be out. If all four of these guys are out, the onus is on Cox to prove he’s capable of wrecking a game plan like he was two years ago.
Sean McVay will try to run the football, especially if the defensive line enters the game depleted with injuries. They ran on 55.2% of their offensive plays last week, racking up 158 yards and putting two touchdowns on the board. The Rams only averaged 3.8 yards per carry, but they were efficient running the ball on first down. Their lead back Malcolm Brown averaged 6.6 yards per carry on first down.
Cox and the rest of his defensive line were stout against the run game in week 1, allowing just 80 rushing yards on 36 carries. What the defensive line did struggle with, was getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. They finished with just three sacks, and like I said earlier, Cox wasn’t in on any of them. If he can push his offensive lineman back consistently against the Rams, it’ll throw off their entire offensive rhythm.
The Rams don’t do a lot of crazy, out of the box things on offense. They stick to their identity and they practice it so much that it’s like second nature to them. They’re going to run outside zone, hammer you to death with it and then run bootlegs with Jared Goff. The reason they make so many defenses look foolish is because they mirror their running plays to their play action, meaning when they call a bootleg pass, their offensive lineman don’t give it away because they block the same exact way for their zone running plays. Defenses are typically taught to key on this, which is why McVay emphasizes the mirroring of their run plays to their play action plays so much.
If Cox is able to disrupt their running game on first downs, it’ll throw off the entire rhythm of the Rams offense. Running play action passes is much more ideal when it’s 2nd and short as opposed to 2nd and eight or nine.
I need to see a dominant game out of Cox this week. If he fails to have a big impact in this game, you’re going to start seeing more and more fans question how good he actually is at this point in his career..