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Fletcher Cox: The Leading Man


The question is posed to Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, a mountain of a man at 6-4, 310 pounds: Which statistic above all else is most important to you?

For someone judged by the masses on his quarterback sack total and big plays he makes behind the line of scrimmage, his answer is 180 degrees away from the individual side of the ledger.

"The only thing that matters," Cox says, "is winning football games. And I don't care how we do it, but winning is the goal every time we go out there. If people want to judge me on my individual numbers, that's fine with me. All I care about is how the team does."

And the team has done pretty darn well to date, with 13 victories and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, which begin Saturday for the Eagles. Cox has been a huge reason for the success, seeing how he alters the landscape along the line of scrimmage every time he lines up with that big No. 91, a hulking, menacing presence for the Eagles' defense.

In his sixth season since the Eagles selected him 12th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft, Cox became a Pro Bowl player for the third time and was also voted as an All-Pro for the third time. He has clearly established himself as one of the game's great interior defensive linemen, a powerhouse on every snap who commands double teams, who opens up free lanes for his defensive teammates, and who understands that, even with all that he does, it's never going to be enough to satisfy everyone.

That is, until the Eagles, the team, achieve their ultimate goal.

"We want to win the Super Bowl, just like every other team," Cox says. "To be in this position, back in the playoffs for the second time in my career, it's a blessing. I don't take it for granted. It's hard to get back here. It's crazy that it's our first playoffs since 2013. Once you get a taste of it, you want to keep going back. And it's not that easy to get in this position."

It's fair to say that for the Eagles to have a chance to dominate defensively in the postseason, Cox has to lead the way. He's the one who can destroy blocking schemes with his combination of power and speed, and the Eagles certainly play off of Cox. When he's double-teamed, which is just about always, linemates Tim Jernigan, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Co. benefit.

The NFL's No. 1-ranked unit against the run has been questioned during a late-season period during which the defense, after wearing out offenses over a nine-game winning streak, didn't get off the field as effectively on third down, didn't get to the quarterback quite as often, and gave up some big plays in the running game.

It comes with the territory, says Cox. There are going to be lulls during the course of a 16-game season. What he's looking forward to is getting it back for the playoffs, and the performances against Oakland in a 19-10 victory that clinched the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and one in the regular-season finale when the defense's second- and third-teamers dominated Dallas were encouraging.

Playing at home in front of an absolutely bonkers Lincoln Financial Field crowd that hasn't sniffed the playoffs in far too long will help, too.

"I think we're ready to play our best football," Cox says. "We're rested. We're healthy. We have a lot to prove. A lot of people are saying some pretty bad things about our team lately. We have to step up and prove that they are wrong, that we are the kind of team that we think we are.

"We just have to go out and do it on the football field. I think the defense sets the tone. Defense still wins championships in the NFL."

This is where it starts for the Eagles, backed by the craziness of the crowd. With a deep and talented line, and a linebacker crew that has withstood the loss of Jordan Hicks and now has veteran Dannell Ellerbe patrolling the middle linebacker position, the front seven is as good as any in these NFL playoffs. Pressure up front means success on the back end, so the responsibility is enormous for Cox and those on the line of scrimmage.

And the flashy stuff, the quarterback sacks and the takeaways, only come if the Eagles handle business against the running game. To have success, the Eagles need to be sound and disciplined and very physical. Cox leads the way.

"Finishing first against the run was really great," he says. "It means a lot to our defense and it says a lot about who we are. We don't care who you are, we think we can stop your running game. That doesn't mean we don't respect you, but we just think we all get to the football and tackle well and we're going to do our jobs and be OK. When you stop the run and put teams in second- and third-and-long situations, it's only going to help us."

It's playoff time. It's defense time. It's time for Fletcher Cox to take the Eagles' defense to a new level of excellence. The game changes in the playoffs. Every little thing matters and attention to detail is critical. Cox is ready to be a leading man.

"I'm just going to do what I do and play my game," Cox says.

"You don't want to try to do too much. If we all do our jobs and trust the guy next to us, we're going to be fine. We're going to be aggressive and get after it. I think this is the fun part. We started back in April in the OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and then through Training Camp with this in mind. Now that we're here, it's go time for the defense."

This feature appears in the January 13 edition of Gameday Magazine which will be available at the Eagles Pro Shop at Lincoln Financial Field and Philadelphia-area ACME supermarkets.

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