Fletcher Cox has been an absolute terror at defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles through five games. Cox just won NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for doing this to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday:
Fletcher Cox is 1st NFL player with 3 sacks, 2 FFs & FR in a game since 2007. Is 1st Eagle to accomplish feat pic.twitter.com/YREkPLhk91— Randall Liu (@RLiuNFL) October 14, 2015
Ereck Flowers is a rookie left tackle who, not surprisingly, is struggling to find his way in the NFL.
Let's call Cox vs. Flowers our "marquee matchup" for the critical Monday night game between the Giants and Eagles. It's one that, on paper, is a big problem for the Giants.
Cox in action
By the numbers
OK, so the images tell us that Cox can be pretty darn devastating. Now, what do the numbers say?
Cox is Pro Football Focus's seventhth graded 3-4 DE with a grade of +12.4. He has four sacks, one hit and seven hurries this season. In terms of Pass Rush Productivity, he is 16th with 12 total pressures on 190 pass rush snaps. He also has those two forced fumbles.
Flowers? He is PFF's 64th-ranked player out of 76 qualifying offensive tackles. He has yet to allow a sack, which has a lot to do with the Giants quick-throw philosophy, but is ranked 74th out of those 76 tackles. His pass blocking efficiency score of 91.8 is 66th of 73 tackles graded. He has allowed five hits and 11 hurries.
I asked Brandon Lee Gowton of SB Nation's Eagles blog, Bleeding Green Nation, for his input on Cox's play thus far. Here is what he said:
"Fletcher Cox has been a beast, which isn't a surprise to Eagles fans. Cox is just a special player. He moves incredibly well for a guy who measures in at 6-4, 300 pounds. The 24-year-old defensive end leads the teams in sacks after finishing with three against New Orleans. But Cox's impact really goes beyond the numbers. When Cox isn't getting sacks for himself, he's helping his teammates get them. Connor Barwin's 14.5 sack performance in 2014 was largely made possible by Cox eating up blocks and drawing extra attention. Cox is also a force in the run game. He ranks 12th overall in run stop percentage by Pro Football Focus.
"What makes Cox even more dangerous this season is how well the rest of Philadelphia's defense is playing. Nose tackle Bennie Logan, who lines up next to Cox, has also been a force in the middle of the line. The Eagles' improved pass coverage is giving Cox more time to reach the quarterback. Cox elevates the Eagles' defense but he is also being elevated by it."
Truth is, it isn't just Cox
The reality is, the problem for the Giants isn't just Cox vs. Flowers. It is also handling the edge rush of outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham, especially whichever guy right tackle Marshall Newhouse ends up being responsible for. More often than not, that is probably going to be Barwin, who had 14.5 sacks last season.
Newhouse has a PFF grade of -13.9, 72nd out of 76 tackles graded. He has yet to allow a sack, but has given up three hits and 16 hurries. His pass blocking efficiency score is 93.0, 50th of 59 tackles who have played every snap.
So, what can the Giants do?
They can continue to help their tackles with their offensive philosophy, that's pretty much what they can do. The fact that neither offensive tackle has surrendered a sack this season is more of a testament to the way the Giants are playing offense than it is to the play of Flowers and Newhouse. Eli Manning is throwing the ball in 2.27 seconds, fourth-quickest in the league behind Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. You can expect those quick throws to be the case on Monday night.
They can also continue their heavy employment of the shotgun -- in fact, they almost have to. It's part of why the ball comes out so quickly, and it also gives Manning a better opportunity to move in the pocket and find seams to throw from. Against the 49ers, Manning was in shotgun on 51 of his 55 drop backs. Against the Buffalo Bills, Manning threw only a single pass that wasn't out of the shot gun, unless you count a screen on which the Giants were penalized for an illegal man downfield.
The Giants aren't getting around the struggles of Flowers and Newhouse by affording them extra help or keeping extra blockers in. On the contrary, for the most part they are just lining up and playing. What they are doing is scheming around the pass-blocking deficiencies of their tackles.
That will have to continue on Monday. Provided the Giants can manage down and distance, and the score allows them to continue with their quick-passing approach, they should be able to work around this disadvantage on Monday. If they get behind by a couple of scores and need to throw the ball down the field, the pass rush from the edges is going to be a major issue.