While Michael Vick, Nick Foles have garnered much of the attention through the first two preseason games, people have been taking notes on how much work the Eagles defense still has to do as they transition to Billy Davis’ 3-4 defense.
And when Sports Illustrated named there most disappointing players through the first two pre-season games, Eagles defensive-tackle/defensive-end Fletcher Cox found his way onto the list.
Cox was a bright spot in a lost 2012 season for the Eagles, finishing with 5.5 sacks and improving as the year progressed. The transition from the Andy Reid regime to Chip Kelly has not been all that smooth for Cox, however, mainly due to the scheme changes implemented on defense.
He has spent most of his time as a 3-4 end thus far in the preseason, and the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Jeff McLane recently declared that Cox “has never looked so lost.” Through two exhibition games, Pro Football Focus has him rated as the worst 3-4 end in the league. Kelly will need much more out of Cox if this in-flux defense is to put up any resistance in 2013.
It’s no secret that a transition to a 3-4 defense isn’t something that happens overnight. For most teams it takes a few seasons to fully transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4. But McLane is spot on with how lost Cox has looked in the 3-4 through the first two preseason games, which is frustrating because Cox was expected to be a piece that helped lead the Eagles defensive turnaround.
The part that bothers me isn’t that I don’t think Cox couldn’t slowly turn things around and become and effective defensive end, it’s that I think in a 4-3 defense Cox had defensive stud written all over him. Now his long-term future may be up in the air with the team. It’s similar to how DeMeco Ryans was a pro-bowler for the Texans in the 4-3, but once Wade Phillips came and switched the Texans to a 3-4 defense, Ryans wasn’t a fit on the team anymore. Similar except Ryans was a linebacker.
The Texans ended up moving on from Ryans, but the 3-4 worked out long-term because they drafted players like J.J. Watt that fit the system. In the end the ultimate goal for the Eagles is to build a championship defense and Cox could end up being a casualty if he can’t properly adjust.
The hope will remain the Cox is able to make the adjustments to the 3-4, and the Eagles defense is able to become an extremely effective unit over the course of the Chip Kelly era. So far neither have happened.