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Fletcher Cox: The spark plug of the Eagles' defense

This is the cover story of the November 24 issue ofGameday Magazine,which can be found at the Lincoln Financial Field Pro Shop as well as Philadelphia-area ACME supermarkets this weekend.

Defensive end Vinny Curry ponders the question.

Where does Fletcher Cox rank among the best defensive linemen in Eagles history?

The 31-year-old Curry is a native of Neptune, New Jersey, and a lifelong Eagles fan. On the day after he was chosen in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft by his favorite team, Curry was starstruck as he met safety Brian Dawkins at the NovaCare Complex. The future Pro Football Hall of Famer was in the building to announce that he would sign a one-day ceremonial contract and retire as a Philadelphia Eagle.

Curry knows his Eagles, past and present.

Without hesitation, Curry declares, "Top five."

Curry pauses. "Top three."

Now, the wheels are spinning.

Curry finally ranks them. He puts the Minister of Defense Reggie White at the top. His draft classmate Cox is number two, with Trent Cole coming in at number three.

White is a slam dunk, no-brainer choice. He had 124 sacks in 121 games as an Eagle. But Curry actually deliberates about the top spot.

"The Reggie White I grew up on is the Reggie White from the Packers," Curry says. "When you think of Fletcher Cox, you think of Fletcher Cox of the Philadelphia Eagles."

Curry might be slightly biased, but that's the company Cox keeps these days.

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Cox turns 29 next month and is in the prime of an already storied career. He's been to four consecutive Pro Bowls, the most ever by an Eagles interior defensive lineman. After anchoring the defensive line to the franchise's first Super Bowl win in 2017, Cox came back and registered a career-high 10.5 sacks, earning first-team All-Pro honors. It was the fourth time that he was honored by The Associated Press as an All-Pro selection, but the only first-team recognition.

"There's something deep in his heart. He has a desire to want to be the best as well as the desire to push others and help make others great," Curry says.

"He's the same guy (from when he was drafted). From the younger years to now, he's a smarter football player. One thing about him people should know is that he's got a photographic memory. He's so smart. His feel for the game is crazy. During the game, he'll start pointing out stuff and you think he's mimicking the quarterback. No, he's actually calling out the play."

Table inside Article
Most sacks by an Eagles interior defensive lineman
1. Fletcher Cox 47.0
2. Andy Harmon 39.5
3. Ken Clarke 32.5
4. Corey Simon 32.0

As the Eagles made a push toward the postseason in 2018, Cox played his best ball. He was dominant in the buildup to the playoffs with 5.5 sacks in the month of December. He had a key fumble recovery in the win over Houston. In the Week 17 shutout of Washington that punched the playoff ticket, Cox earned NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after tying a career high with three sacks.

Cox suffered a foot injury in the Divisional Round loss to New Orleans that sidelined him for the entire offseason, so it's taken him a little bit longer to hit his stride in 2019. Yet, Cox and the defense are rounding into form at the perfect time. The Eagles are 5-5, one game out of first place in the NFC East with six battles to go starting with Sunday's showdown against the Seattle Seahawks.

"We all expected him to come around. Maybe it's taken a little longer than he had in mind, but he came back from a pretty significant injury and missed all of Training Camp," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz says. "I think it just goes to show you it's hard to just pick right up at that point and be back to the player that we saw in the New Orleans game at the end of the year last year. But each game he's trended a little bit better.

"He's played pretty well and, again, it's not just a numbers game, it's just not whether he's having sacks. It's the disruptions, it's forcing other players – when we played the Jets, I thought he played an outstanding game in that game. It didn't show up on the scorecard with sacks, but like two other sacks that can I think of were a direct result of Fletch being disruptive."

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The Eagles pummeled the Jets' quarterbacks Luke Falk and David Fales to the tune of 10 sacks on October 6. Cox didn't have one, but he allowed his teammates to feast. He walked Jets right guard Brian Winters back in the pocket, which forced Falk to make an errant throw that was picked off by safety Rodney McLeod.

In the past three games, the Eagles' defense has been dominant, helping set the tone while the offense is rebounding from several injuries. It should come as no coincidence that Cox is fully healthy, playing at that All-Pro level that has his name mentioned with the greats. The Eagles have allowed just 44 points (14.7 per contest) in the past three games, resulting in two wins and a close loss to the Patriots. Cox chipped in with 16 tackles and 1.5 sacks in that span.

In the Week 8 win over the Bills, he beat guard Jon Feliciano that resulted in a strip-sack of quarterback Josh Allen on the opening third down of the game. He later came off an end-tackle stunt to get pressure and help Derek Barnett get a strip-sack.

One week later at home against the Bears, Cox shed a double-team on the first play from scrimmage to tackle running back David Montgomery. He then shoved right guard Rashaad Coward into the backfield, forcing quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to run right into the waiting arms of defensive end Brandon Graham for a sack. He helped teammate Genard Avery get his first half-sack as an Eagle because the Bears slid a three-man protection in Cox's direction, leaving three offensive linemen to block four pass rushers.

Cox puts up monster numbers and shares the love with his teammates as well. And Cox has shown in the past month that he's ready to be the wrecking ball to opposing offenses as the Eagles look to mount a postseason run and add another chapter to his legacy. The march begins Sunday against one of the league's elite playmakers in elusive Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

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