Everyone has been taking a hatchet to Fletcher Cox’s legacy. It seems like his nine-year reputation as one of the NFL’s most dominating defensive tackles disappeared overnight. Not recording a sack in six straight games might have something to do with it.
The six-time Pro Bowler for the Philadelphia Eagles has taken a backseat to teammate Javon Hargrave. He’s been terrorizing quarterbacks. His five sacks are 1.5 shy of his career high. Some of those opportunities have been caused by double teams on Cox, although the 310-pounder wouldn’t absolve himself of blame. He needs to play better, especially when it comes to winning his one-on-one matchups.
“I could be better, I know I could be better,” Cox told reporters on Oct. 6. “So that’s the problem that I gotta fix and embrace whatever that we’re doing, and make the best of it. I’m seeing some double teams, some singles, and the biggest thing is when I get the one-on-ones, you gotta win them and win them quick knowing that the quarterback’s really not going to hold the ball.”
Cox wasn’t afraid to admit that it’s been a struggle for him adjusting to first-year coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s “scheme-less” defense. He doesn’t always line up in the same place and switches between the 3-technique (outside shoulder of the guard) and 4i (inside shoulder of the tackle). The uncertainty can make it hard to get in a good pass-rushing rhythm.
“It’s just one of them things where it’s very hard to get settled in during the game when you’re playing so many different positions and doing different things,” Cox said. “From scheme-wise, some things are different. Me, last year, we were able to run off the ball a little bit, more than what we’re doing now.”
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No Friction with Gannon, Coaching Staff
It might sound as if Cox is complaining about the way Gannon is using him. To be clear, he is not throwing anyone under the bus. It’s just a different style he’s adapting to while trying to grow with a new defensive coordinator.
“Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do,” Cox said. “I’m going to do it to the best of my ability, and be a pro about it. Be very professional about it, and go out and make the best out of it.”
Cox was freer in Jim Schwartz’s system. In it, he lined up mainly in 3-technique and chaotically rushed the passer whenever he wanted. This year it’s important to mind your gap assignments. Again, that’s not an indictment on Gannon or the players around Cox.
“You can’t get frustrated about it, you can’t get frustrated about this game because frustration causes tension between coaches and players,” Cox said. “There’s going to be some growing pains, we just gotta be better. Ain’t nobody gonna jibber jabber behind JG’s back. We all got his back and whatever defense is called on Sunday or today in practice, you gotta go out and execute it at the highest level.”
Gannon Thinks Highly of All-Pro Tackle
Gannon was asked to evaluate Cox’s performance through the first games when he met with reporters on Oct. 5. He said Cox was “doing a good job” and the “production will come.” The Eagles defensive honcho also reminded everyone that he played a lot of 3-technique in Week 4.
“You know, his skill set is one of that it makes it a hard matchup for different people to block him,” Gannon said. “So that’s one of the guys that I think – along with most of our guys, that’s why we’ve trained them to play in different spots for matchup-driven reasons. And we got to continue to do that with Fletch, to give him the best matchup possible. But there’s not a guy that lines up on Fletch, that in my mind, that he cannot beat.”