When it comes to defensive tackles in this league, Aaron Donald is typically known as the absolute best. Donald has spoiled the rest of us because it seems like other defensive tackles aren’t discussed nearly as much even if they’re playing in the same ballpark.
Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is one of those players. With Philadelphia since 2012, Cox is a three-time Pro Bowler, a three-time Second-team All-Pro, and a Super Bowl champion. His Eagles come to Nashville this Sunday to decide which team goes to 3-1 and which team falls to 2-2.
Cox himself is having a sensational season. He has 2.5 sacks on the year and leads all defensive players with 9 quarterback hits. He’s a perfect test for an offensive line that has given up the fewest quarterback hits on the season, so something has to give.
For a further look at why Fletcher Cox is a defensive player the Titans need to fear, let’s investigate his tape.
Playing up on the defensive line is not just about rushing the passer or the runner. Occasionally a defensive lineman’s job is to disrupt the play, call out play fakes, option plays, etc. Here, Cox uses hesitance on his pass rush because he knows Devonta Freeman is being used as the bubble screen.
As soon as Cox notices Freeman moving out, that’s when he steps in front of him, forcing Freeman to take a different angle before eventually being tackled for a loss. Cox doesn’t get credited for a tackle here, but his sniff out of the screen ultimately makes this play happen.
Sacks by themselves don’t constitute just how well a pass rusher is playing, which is why pressures and quarterback hits do a much better job of providing context. Cox only has 2.5 sacks on the year, but there’s a huge amount of pressure that he’s creating on a game-by-game basis.
Cox doesn’t get credited for the sack here (although he’s pretty close), but his leverage allows him to put pressure on Matt Ryan long enough for Chris Long to strip sack the quarterback. Cox was the standout player for the Eagles in Week 1 because of the impact he made on the Eagles’ defensive line: They don’t win this one without him balling out.
What especially makes Cox such a dangerous pass rusher that isn’t limited to stopping the run game is his athleticism and technique. His most deadly move is the two-step counter, where he—of course—takes two steps before countering a lineman’s futile attempts at blocking him, giving him a clear path to the quarterback.
Here, Cox takes two steps and smacks the guard’s hands out of existence. The guard is now out of position to stop #91, allowing him to push off his left foot, accelerate, and easily take down Ryan Fitzpatrick for the sack.
Finally, it goes without saying that Cox is a freight train; Defensive tackles need all the power they can get to muster through whatever gap they’re racing toward, and Cox has all that and then some.
This time Cox is double blocked (that almost sounds dirty), but even that’s not enough. Cox’s bull rush combines quickness, speed and aggressive, high attacking inside hands as he gets by the left guard and completely overwhelms the center, giving him access to Andrew Luck for the sack.
To conclude, Fletcher Cox is the real deal. He’s having a Defensive Player of the Year-worthy start thanks to his quick, violent hands, raw power and two-step counter. Along with the defending Super Bowl champions, he’s the perfect test for a Titans offense that has struggled to stay healthy all season. The Eagles have other talented pass rushers to worry about, but stopping #91 would be massive.
Marcus Mariota, Matt LaFleur and the offensive line better be ready.