Disruptive Fletcher Cox Reappears

The veteran defensive star looked like his dominant self for the first time in Jonathan Gannon's defense
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PHILADELPHIA - For years Fletcher Cox basically had one job description - go wreck the game.

As Jim Schwartz's dominating three-technique, Cox made five consecutive Pro Bowls and was often regarded as the best interior lineman in the NFL not named Aaron Donald.

It's been a slower go in Jonathan Gannon's scheme which uses a more varied front that has put Cox in dual roles, his familiar and more comfortable 3-tech and the what has been a fish out of water move to 4i, which can be a two-gap enterprise at least at times.

Instead of rushing upfield to penetrate the backfield, Cox has been asked to read and react at times and the results have been slow to come.

Through the first four games of the season, Cox was shut out on the stat sheet two different times and didn't register a sack.

Teams were still sliding protection to Cox in a somewhat regular fashion but the film showed ineffectiveness at times, a far cry from the dominance Cox often flashed against double-teams when Schwartz was in charge.

"I mean scheme-wise some things are different," Cox said before the 21-18 win in Carolina. "Last year I was able to kind of run off the ball a little bit. More than what we’re doing now. We’re playing a different style of defense. Two different coordinators.

“... Sometimes I play in the 3-technique, sometimes I play in the 4i. It’s just one of them things where it’s hard to get settled in, in a game when you’re playing so many positions and doing so many things.”

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"We like to move Fletch around," defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. "You know, his skill set is one of that it makes it a hard matchup for different people to block him. So that's one of the guys that I think - along with most of our guys, that's why we've trained them to play in different spots for matchup-driven reasons.

"And we got to continue to do that with Fletch, to give him the best matchup possible. But there's not a guy that lines up on Fletch, that in my mind, that he cannot beat."

The startup costs in a new scheme finally paid dividends in Charlotte when Cox looked like himself as he and Javon Hargrave controlled the game from the interior.

To the naked eye, it seemed like Gannon expanded his scheme when it came to stunts and forcing the issue but it was first-week install stuff.

"The stuff we did in that game was basically first week of install of training camp," Gannon said on Tuesday. "There is a little bit of – you guys probably saw a little bit of different multiplicity because ultimately it goes down to who we're defending, what we thought was good for that week.

"So, we could look like that again or look like week one or week two. You don't really know, and that's, obviously, because of who you are playing every week changes. The players executed that stuff that we asked them to do and made a bunch of plays, which was good to see."

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In other words, the fact that Sam Darnold was out there behind a makeshift offensive line allowed for a little more freedom than playing against a Patrick Mahomes or a Dak Prescott.

Cox. who finished with three tackles and a sack, confirmed that sentiment himself.

"It was a part of some stuff that we always had in," he said. "I think last week was probably a good time to put it out there. I think we worked on it a lot in training camp. We felt comfortable with it, doing it because we had worked on it a lot in training camp, practice so we felt good doing it and it was actually good doing it and putting it on tape."

And that tape finally showed the Fletcher Cox people in Philadelphia have come to expect.

"Just being disruptive," Cox said of his performance. "I was just able to go out and play and have fun. Probably my longest streak to go without having a sack so getting the first sack is always the hardest one.

"I was excited about that but also excited the way we went out and got a team win."

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-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.