After signing a mega extension last offseason, worth up to $102 million, Fletcher Cox had lofty expectations to fulfill and rightfully so. Cox has been an elite performer at the defensive tackle position for most of his career.
Entering his fifth season in the league, the Eagles brightest star on defense had more pressure to continue to play at a very high level with a top-echelon contract in hand.
After four games into the 2016 season, Cox was playing at a level everyone was accustomed to seeing, with four sacks and several tackles for loss. Unfortunately, many critics look at strictly stats instead of focusing on the other plays that don't involve sacks or tackles for loss. He went through a rough period this season with eight straight games without recording a sack.
Last Sunday, Cox played his best game in months with 1.5 sacks, four total tackles and several knockdowns of quarterback Kirk Cousins. In Week 13 against the Bengals, which was the team's worst performance of the season, a lack of effort from several players was a concern. The star defensive tackle was one of the names getting attention. He responded in a huge way last week.
In the fourth quarter of last week's game, Cox's high motor was on full display on one particular play. He was able to get a solid push up the middle, forcing Cousins to scramble to his right -- though it appeared to be a design roll out anyway. With sound coverage downfield, Cousins decided to run for a potential first down, but Cox continued to chase him down and eventually pushed him out of bounds short of a first down.
On another play earlier in the game, Cox took on a double team and beat both lineman to get to Cousins, forcing him to throw the ball earlier than he wanted. It was these type of plays that Cox has displayed time and time again in his career that impacts games. He impacted the game with a normal high motor, lateral quickness and overall strength that sets him apart from many defensive tackles in the NFL. He responded to the critics in a way that can only quiet them down.
Though Cox's numbers are down across the board this season, he remains one of the best defensive lineman in today's game. He deserved some criticism after appearing to take some plays off in the loss to the Bengals two weeks ago, but the uproar still went too far. There should be little doubt that he will finish this season strong. He should still be a Pro Bowler, but perhaps he won't be a First Team All-Pro guy like he was in 2015.
When fellow defensive tackle Bennie Logan missed time with a groin injury earlier in the season, it certainly put more pressure on Cox, drawing more and more double teams. Beau Allen is a sound defensive lineman too, but he doesn't impact the game like Logan can. When Logan and Cox are lined up next to each other that is when the defensive front is at its best. Brandon Graham is having a career season at defensive end to add to the mix.
Fletcher Cox is everything the Eagles could have ever imagined him to be when the organization drafted him at 12th overall in 2012. Considering the first-round mistakes that were made by the team afterwards, Cox has been a blessing, demonstrating he is scheme versatile, and an athletic specimen at his size.
It continues to be fun to watch Cox impact a game like he did against Washington last week. Hopefully he gets another opportunity to perform in Jim Schwartz's scheme next season. With better personnel around him, he should continue to grow into one of the best overall defensive players in the league.