With two preseason games, and a joint practice with the New England Patriots in the books, the Philadelphia Eagles Defense hasn’t looked to convincing. The lack of pass rush, depth at the corner position, and third down defense, have all been a bit worrisome. The one issue that goes unnoticed is the disappearance of third year Defensive End Fletcher Cox. This may be even a bigger issue than all the other ones stated, Cox is major cog in the Eagles Defense. If he cannot reach his full untapped potential, that would really throw a wrench in Philly’s plans to have a dominant Defense.
When the Philadelphia Eagles old regime drafted Cox in 2012 with the 12th overall pick (Eagles traded up three spots), the entire organization thought they had just landed a beast Defensive Tackle in their 4-3 wide nine Defensive scheme. Cox showed flashes of why exactly the team selected him. Fletcher showed great agility and strength and flourished in the scheme. The only problem? The entire coaching staff got whipped out after going an abysmal 4-12 that season. In 2013 the Eagles hired Head Coach Chip Kelly, and inserted new coaches. Kelly brought with him a new Defense, a 3-4 two gapping Defensive scheme. As a whole, the entire Defense struggled early to adjust to the new scheme. Many players didn’t fit the scheme, including Cox. The 4-3 wide nine Defense is on the opposite end of the spectrum compared to a two gapping 3-4. Cox had to adjust from attacking one gap, to now eating up blockers to free up the Linebackers. As the season went on the Defense improved and so did Cox. Fletcher still flashed good pass rush skills, and proved to be a viable run stuffer. Heading into year 2 with the new scheme, the Philadelphia Eagles are expecting Cox to take the next step into his development, and play like a Pro Bowl caliber player.
Preseason is no time to panic. This point in time is more about evaluating fringe players and examining depth. With that being said, you still want your starters to play at high level and show a certain competitive nature in games and practice. But to be blunt, Fletcher Cox has looked sluggish and lackadaisical this summer, and has not showed the pass rush skills that many thought he would develop by now. Cox is still a great run defender, but if anyone has watched the last two preseason games, the lack of pass rush is the main concern right now. As I said, its preseason, I can’t stress that enough. People were ready to give up on Quarterback Nick Foles because he threw two interceptions last week. So the play of Fletcher Cox right now carries little weight, what really matters is the regular season. But the Philadelphia Eagles need Cox to step up. If Cox continues his disappointing play into the regular season where the games count, the Eagles Defense might be in for a long year.
Fletcher Cox is surprisingly only 23 years old. He still has plenty of time to develop. At 6’4 300 lbs, his raw talent is on full display when you just look at him. All the physical attributes are there. His nimble feet are impressive for a guy that big. Fletcher has flashed an explosive first step to disrupt the backfield. Cox has shown that his pass rush does need some fine tuning, but has displayed enough to make you think he could potentially be a 7 to 9 sacks a year guy. Potential is nothing if you don’t put it all together. Cox needs to assure the organization that he has grown as a player and leader of the Defense. The Philadelphia Eagles have very high hopes for the big Defensive End out of Yazoo City, Mississippi. The Preseason should be taken with a grain of salt, but if the past is any indication of the future, the Philadelphia Eagles desperately need Fletcher Cox to take that next step into becoming the dominant player everyone knows he can be. If his pass rush prowess improves, the Eagles can count on a vastly improved Defense. As of now, Cox’s play shouldn’t make you hit the panic button just yet, but the Philadelphia Eagles and fans are still waiting for him to meet the expectations given to him when the Eagles traded up for him in 2012. This year could be the year Fletcher Cox shows the NFL world just how good he can be.