RESULTS FROM COX STARTING TO MATCH HIS ABILITY
Sometime around 2011-12 while Jim Schwartz was the head coach of the Detroit Lions, I found myself at Ford Field and shared a few moments with Jim prior to the game, talking about his defense that featured many accomplished players.
On that Sunday afternoon while he was watching his team warm up, with an intensity of a hawk circling its prey, he said that the way his defense works is really simple.
The defensive line’s job was to go break a bunch of S**T, and the linebackers job was to go clean that S**T up.
I chuckled, Schwartzy didn’t. He was dead serious and on many a Saturday night prior to Sunday’s games he has reminded his defensive front of that principle.
His defenses, going back to Tennessee and then Detroit and Buffalo, had always been centered around destructive defensive tackles.
Albert Haynesworth received the richest defensive tackle contract in pro football when he left Schwartzy.s Tennessee team and then signed with the Redskins.
Ndamukong Suh was that guy in Detroit and then parlayed that into a fat check with the Dolphins. He had a young Marcell Dareus in Buffalo when he helped lead a defensive line in sacks in 2014.
All this leads to Fletcher Cox. He is the uber-talented sixth-year DT that needs to have a monster year for the Birds to go where they would like, the playoffs.
He has the talent to do so. They have surrounded Fletcher with more talent than he has ever seen since he came to the Birds out of Mississippi State in 2012.
They have added via trade, Tim Jernigan from the Ravens. Chris Long was added who was the second overall pick in 2008 and fresh off a healthy Super Bowl winning season with the Patriots.
And they spent the 14th pick in this 2017 draft on Derrick Barnett, a serious-minded, no nonsense defensive end from Tennessee.
If you add in Vinny Curry; all told the Birds have four No.1 draft picks and two No.2 picks on the defensive line. No team in all of football has committed more resources to build their defensive front.
I mention this because Fletcher doesn’t have to do it by himself. He has plenty of help. But he must do his part.
Opening Sunday versus the Redskins Fletcher showed up. Not a lot of stats, one tackle, but two game-changing plays. On the first third down of the game, Schwartzy dialed up a zone pressure which saw Brandon Graham drop into coverage as Fletcher’s responsibility was to contain rush versus Morgan Moses. Normally the contain man is content to just make sure the quarterback doesn’t leave the pocket.
While doing his job, he was able to get his left paw up and strip the ball from Kurt Cousins right hand. Sack/fumble for Cox and a recovery by Jordan Hicks and the Birds were on there way to a 13-0 lead.
In the fourth quarter while the Birds were clinging to a narrow lead, Graham would get an effective power rush versus Morgan Moses and while collapsing the pocket was again able to strip the ball from Cousins. Cox had a good rush versus guard Brandon Scherff and knocked him off balance.
When the ball hit the ground, Fletcher showed great agility by scooping it up on the first bounce and marched into the end zone for a defensive touchdown. Two plays where he did his job of breaking a bunch of S**T.
Deion Sanders, the Hall of Fame defensive back, once told me that a great defense is a scoring defense. The Eagles scored there first TD of the season and if Fletcher Cox plays to his potential then they should score more defensive touchdowns as the season advances.
I have been a harsh critic of Cox at times only because players that are given more talent than others need to play to that talent level and I think at times he has not done that.
As a teammate of the late great Reggie White, he knew exactly when to unleash his fury of talent to take a game over. It was a skill that he had from the time he entered the league. I am not comparing Cox to White but what I would like to see him understand is when a game is in the balance and when its time to step up and take the game over. He doesn’t have to make every play all game long. That’s unreasonable but his fumble recovery for a touchdown to cement the Birds first win is a nice start.
It is an amazing system to be able to play in for Cox. His only responsibility is to use his enormous strength and power and be as destructive as hell. If the defensive line can play with a fury up front it can mask some of the inexperience on the back end. Every quarterback from Cousins to Alex Smith to Eli Manning is vulnerable when they get hit early in games.
They all get a little frenetic and begin to see ghosts and feel things when they are not happening. This is Cox’s big responsibility.
Can he make the quarterback feel like he is alone in a bed with a cobra lurking in the dark?
If they can consistently do this to whatever quarterback they are facing, they could get them to turn the ball over like Cousins did in week one…a total of three times.
Hey Fletcher, go bust up a bunch of S**T.