Fletcher Cox: Appreciate This Man

The football media at large is finally beginning to talk about what Fletcher Cox has done for this Eagles defense. Here's a little more on why the defensive end has been the anchor of the group.

It's a truth that all workhorse players know: they're not going to get the media accolades for setting the table for the skill players. It's the reality of football. Emmitt Smith will tell you that Daryl "Moose" Johnston is more responsible for Smith breaking Walter Payton's yards mark than anyone, but it's Smith that resides in Canton. Meanwhile, these days, Moose has to take Tony Siragusa's jumbled ravings and find a point among them.

Hearing Ray Didinger speak on Black Friday afternoon about Fletcher Cox volleys this point to the defense as well. Connor Barwin and Trent Cole clean up with sacks, while Mychal Kendricks carves like a knife to make aggressive, noticeable plays. When you think of the Eagles defense, you think of these types of guys before you think of Cox, who in my estimation is the best player in Bill Davis' squad.

Didinger notes there's a certain self-humility in doing what Cox does, engaging up to two linemen play after play so that others can clean up with the quarterback sack. He's not going to get all of the credit for the drops that Barwin, Cole, Vinny Curry, and others pick up, but more often than not, he's the player that's made it possible.

If you're looking to be thankful for one Eagle this Thanksgiving, at a time where McCoy and Maclin toppled 1000 rushing and receiving yards each, where Darren Sproles has added gulp-inducing danger to the return game, and where, yes, the defense is racking up sack after sack, here's a case for why Fletcher Cox ought to be your choice.

Cox is third in quarterback hurries among 3-4 ends

In addition to the three sacks Cox has picked up the last month, only two 3-4 ends bring more hurries than him: J.J. Watt (31) and Ray McDonald (28). Cox's 26 hurries are more than proven forces of nature like Sheldon Richardson, Jason Hatcher, Justin Smith, and Jurrell Casey. Cox has an acute ability to drive linemen back, startling the quarterback off of his standing point, so that the likes of Barwin, Curry, and Brandon Graham can nail him before his feet are re-set. In other words, Cox does a damn good job chasing the enemy into oncoming traffic.

Cox is fourth in the NFL in run stops among 3-4 ends

Yes, not only is Cox the motor that drives the pass rush, but he doubles as a highly-effective run stopper. Bill Davis' defense shut down DeMarco Murray, thanks in large part to Cox's efforts, and opponents only average 3.89 yards a run in 12 games. For his part, Cox has made 23 stops behind the line of scrimmage, behind only Watt, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Casey at his position. Sacks and run-stops combined, only Kendricks has more than Cox on the team, but remember: Kendricks doesn't have to engage a 300-pound lineman on every snap. Cox does, making his total all the more impressive.

In 676 snaps, Fletcher Cox has not missed a single tackle

In fact, Cox is the only Eagle defender with 200 or more snaps this season to have a clean slate. Of the 17 players with 200+ defensive snaps, Barwin's missed one tackle, while Curry, Emmanuel Acho, and Nolan Carroll have missed two apiece. Incredibly, Cox has played over 200 more snaps than left end Cedric Thornton (474), and Thornton's missed six. Bennie Logan (461) has missed three tackles. Only the entire starting secondary and Barwin have played more defensive snaps than Cox and, as noted with Kendricks, none of them are tasked with engaging girthy linemen with Cox's regularity.

Cox produces bad days for left-side linemen

Scouring through Pro Football Focus, going back to when the pass rush found its legs in the 49ers game, here are some of the graded performances of left guards and tackles in the games since. In many cases, they were the worst-performing linemen in pass blocking for each game.

Ronald Leary (DAL, left guard) - three hurries, two sacks

Andy Levitre (TEN, left guard) - four hurries, two sacks

Taylor Lewan (TEN, left tackle) - two hurries, two sacks

Byron Bell (CAR, left tackle) - five hurries, one hit, two sacks

Ben Jones (HOU, left guard) - one hurry, one hit

Ted Larsen (ARZ, left guard) - two hurries

Weston Richburg (NYG, left guard) - two hurries, one hit

Jake Long (STL, left tackle) - five hurries, one sack

Joe Staley (SF, left tackle) - three hurries, one hit

Names like Staley, Long, and Lewan further Cox's value as a disruptive influence. Leary may not be a name, but as a part of the Cowboys' suddenly-vaunted line, he was duly hammered on Thanksgiving. Richburg was so flustered in the shut-out loss, he tried to land a Bam Bam Bigelow-style diving headbutt on a downed Cox, which drew a flag for a personal foul.

Fletcher Cox does everything for the Eagles defense. Losing him would be worse than losing Nick Foles, DeMeco Ryans, Evan Mathis, or any other player that's been injured this season.

Add his jersey to your Christmas list.

Statistics from Pro Football Focus were used to write this story.

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