Countdown to Kickoff: Could Fletcher Cox be back to himself this week?

Ed Kracz

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and his position coach, Phillip Daniels, had a little chat before the Eagles’ locker room opened after Thursday’s practice.

“I feel good this week,” said Cox, with a sly smile. “I told coach Daniels that I feel good and I’m ready to roll on Sunday.”

Cox has gotten off to a slow start after a summer spent rehabbing from offseason foot surgery. Perhaps he is rounding into form, and that can only help an Eagles defense that is suddenly light at his position with injuries ending the season of Malik Jackson and costing the team the services of Timmy Jernigan for the next several weeks.

“I feel like where I should be right now,” said Cox. “I’ll see on Sunday where I am. Having that extra day off (Wednesday) helped me a lot, but I feel pretty good.”

VIDEO: Carson Wentz on the Lions

The Eagles got so banged up in last week’s loss to the Falcons that head coach Doug Pederson changed his usual padded Wednesday practice to a walkthrough.

“That’s why we respect Doug so much and love playing for him,” said Cox. “That’s one of the really big things we like about him because he’s played the game, he understands what the locker room goes through. We all get his message whatever he’s telling the team. Whatever he wants us to do, we respect that and we always pay him back at the end.”

Pay back starts Sunday when the Detroit Lions visit Lincoln Financial Field at 1 p.m. the game will be televised by FOX.

Here is my Countdown to Kickoff

5…Players to watch

Carson Wentz. The quarterback was abysmal in the first half, but much of that can be contributed to three of his five pass-catching options weren’t playing and he hung tough despite numerous bone-rattling hits. He played much better in the second half, giving the Eagles a 20-17 late in the game with a 1-yard sneak for a touchdown. Wentz was 8-for-8 on the drive. In the second half, he completed 19 of 27 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown pass.

Isaac Seumalo. While Wentz was able to right himself, Seumalo never did. The left guard gave up two sacks and six quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Seumalo was also called twice for holding and had a false start. Another game like that and Seumalo may find himself on the bench in Green Bay four days later.

Nelson Agholor. Last week we saw the good Nellie, with eight catches for 107 yards and his first touchdown of the season, and the bad Nellie, with a bad drop down the left sideline that would’ve likely led to a potentially game-winning touchdown in the final two minutes. With Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson likely out for Sunday, Agholor will need to step up like he never has before.

Hassan Ridgeway. The defensive tackle began the season as the number four DT, but injuries propelled him into the No. 2 spot. Ridgeway had a costly offside penalty last week, and will need to step up to help make Cox more effective. “It’s not like we just brought Hassan in off the street,” said Cox. “He’s been here the whole offseason, he’s been through spring ball, he’s been through training camp, he understands … He’s excited about (the opportunity). I’m really happy to watch him play.”

Ronald Darby. The cornerback isn’t using as an excuse his recovery from offseason ACL surgery, which meant he didn’t have much of a training camp while he rehabbed, for his inconsistent play so far, but he has to start playing better.

4…Keys to victory

Find the pass rush. Yes, the Eagles have done a good job hitting the quarterback, led by defensive end Derek Barnett, who has eight QB hurries/hits, but there have been just two sacks and they have come from defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and safety Andrew Sendejo. “We look on the board, we see how many hits we have, but they’re not sacks,” said defensive end Brandon Graham.

“They’re not changing the field, so we have to make sure we get him on the ground and not have him get the ball to the wide receivers. We love sacks, we want them, and we’re going to do everything we can to get them to help us win, but right now all we can do is practice and keep working hard.”

Slow Matthew Stafford. The Lions quarterback is 3-1 in his career against Philly with nine touchdown passes and only one interception. He has been sacked just three times in two games.

Pass block better. The Eagles were out-schemed by the Falcons and had way too many breakdowns, especially against the blitz. If Wentz takes another beating like he did last week, the quarterback could be the next player to be out for a while with an injury.

Send Mack Hollins deep. Everyone thinks that the Eagles’ vertical threat is gone without DeSean Jackson. Not so. Hollins has speed, too. The question is, can he get separation? He did last year for a 64-yard touchdown against the Redskins. Let’s see if he can do it against the Lions this time.

3…Fun facts

  • With 450 career catches, tight end Zach Ertz needs just three more to surpass Pete Retzlaff for the second on the Eagles’ all-time catch list. Next up: Harold Carmichael, who had 589.
  • Darren Sproles is 41 yards away from moving into fifth place on the NFL’s all-time all-purpose yards list. He has 19,642 and trails Tim Brown’s total of 19,682. “That’s really not on my mind right now,” said Sproles. “I really want to get a win this week to get back on track, but if it happens, it happens.” With the Eagles banged up at the skill positions, Sproles’ role could expand to slot receiver and maybe even line up outside on occasion.
  • The Eagles’ defense recorded three interceptions against the Falcons (Sidney Jones, Ronald Darby, Nate Gerry), which was the first time they had that many in a single game since Nov. 19, 2017 when they picked off Dallas’ Dak Prescott three times.

2…Matchups to watch

Eagles receivers Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside vs. the Lions’ secondary. Hollins and JJAW will be counted on to take a big step forward in their young careers and they will have to do it against an experienced secondary led by veteran cornerback Darius Slay, who made his 12th career interception last week. Cornerback Justin Coleman and strong safety Quandre Diggs are in their fifth seasons. Free safety Tracy Walker is just in his second season, but he has the Lions' other interception this season.

Eagles coverage scheme vs. Lions’ tight ends. There was a lot of attention paid to the Eagles’ two tight ends in Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert being arguably the best duo at their position, but Jesse James and T.J. Hockenson are giving Ertz and Goedert a run for that title. Hockenson, a rookie who was taken 8th overall in the draft, is averaging 19.7 yards on his seven catches and has one touchdown. James has four catches for 33 yards. The Eagles could use linebacker Nate Gerry in coverage, but who else they choose to match up on those big targets remains to be seen.

1…Quote

“It’s going to be fun, especially with them guys you’ve been in the locker room with, that you built relationships with before. When Sunday hits, it’s all about competing, it’s all about fighting and trying to get a win. Ultimately, that’s the goal. But we’ll be friends after … I just want to get a win.” – Eagles defensive tackle Akeem Spence on playing against a Lions team he made three sacks for while playing all 16 games in 2017.

0…Prediction

Don’t look now, but I’m 2-0 predicting the Eagles’ games this season. I certainly think the Lions are capable of coming to town and springing an upset. They seem to be playing with more cohesion under second-year head coach Matt Patricia and first-year offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Provided the Eagles can stay healthy during the game, I think they will find a way to get back on track, though, with a big assist from the fans at Lincoln Financial Field.

EAGLES 24, LIONS 20

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