It may not seem like it from the final score, but for much of the first half, it appeared that the Saints were going to blow the game wide open against the Eagles last week. Philly quarterback Sam Bradford threw not one, but two first-half interceptions, both of them in the red zone.
The Eagles had to feel somewhat lucky that after all that, with the score tied at 7-7 deep into the second quarter. It looked like their luck was about to run out when Saints quarterback Drew Brees hit his wide receiver Willie Snead for a 22-yard gain with just over five minutes left in the second quarter. That play put the Saints at the Philly 28-yard line.
Someone on Philly's defense was going to have to make a play because Brees was certainly looking to score a touchdown.
Three different Eagles defensive players made three big plays in a row, but the biggest of them came from defensive tackle/end Fletcher Cox.
Cox's fellow defensive lineman Bennie Logan started things off with a tackle for a 1-yard loss on Mark Ingram on first down. Malcolm Jenkins finished off the drive a couple plays later, tackling C.J. Spiller for a 5-yard loss. But on second-and-11 it was Cox, lined up at right defensive end -- head up on Saints rookie left tackle Andrus Peat -- who forced the Saints back 10 yards to the Eagles' 39-yard-line with a sack of Drew Brees.
Of course, pass rushing when you're head up on an offensive lineman is far from ideal, but Cox used his power while still staying on the edge of Peat by utilizing a long arm to a rip move (one of my favorites).
A long arm is where a pass rusher fully extends his inside arm, in this case Fletcher's left arm, while aiming to put his hand at the end of that arm right down the middle of the blocker's chest, kind of like jousting with your arm. As you press the blocker back with your "long arm," the pass rusher continues around the corner, and at some point, he releases off the block by swatting the blocker's outside hand with his, then going right into a rip move.
It worked to perfection, and Brees could not get away from Cox's blistering, blind side rush. Add up all those lost yards and the Saints found themselves allllll the way back to the Eagles' 44-yard-line. That, of course, meant instead of coming away with at least a field goal and the lead, the Saints instead ended up having to punt.
The Eagles' offense wasn't able to do much with that opportunity, so the Saints ended up getting the ball back again with 1:18 still left in the half. That's usually more than enough time for Brees to orchestrate a scoring drive of some kind.
But Cox was all like, "how about no?"
On the second play of the drive, Brees lined up on first down at the Saints' 39-yard-line after an 11-yard completion to Marques Colston. This time, the very versatile Cox lined up between the center and right guard as a nose tackle. At the snap, Cox ripped from that A gap to outside of Saints right guard Senio Kelemete into the B gap to the same side. Kelemete, expecting a hard A gap rush out of Cox, was discombobulated and allowed Cox to beat him like he stole something on his way to the quarterback.
Not content with just getting another sack, Cox was actually able to force Brees to fumble, as well. Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks was able to recover the ball at the Saints' 46-yard-line, which gave their offense a prime opportunity to get points on the board before halftime. Instead of the Saints going down and scoring with one of those patented Drew Brees two-minute drills, it was Philly kicking a field goal with 15 seconds left to go up 10-7 at halftime.
Give the Saints credit. Even though they've had a shitty season so far, and that was a pretty shitty turn of events to end the first half, they still came out in the second half and kept fighting. They got the ball first after halftime and promptly drove all the way down to the Eagles' 3-yard-line before having to settle for a game-tying field goal. At that point, the problem was that the Eagles' offense also seemed to come alive, going 10 plays on the ensuing drive to score a touchdown. With the Eagles up 17-10, Cox decided to go ahead and help get the blowout started.
On the first play of the very next drive, the Saints tried to go play action to take a shot down the field. Cox, lined up again at right defensive end across from young Mr. Peat, was fooled at first, but quickly diagnosed that the zone run block Peat was giving him was a fake. Cox hit the brakes and ripped to the outside of Peat where there was nothing between Cox and Brees but air and opportunity. This time Cox hit Brees with the hat trick: sack, caused fumble and the recovery ... all by his damn self!
Bradford and the rest of the Eagles' offense took over on the New Orleans' 13-yard-line and only needed one play to find tight end Brent Celek in the end zone. All of a sudden, Philly jumped ahead 14 points, 24-10, with less than seven minutes left in the third quarter.
The rout was on.
When it was all said and done the Eagles won the game 39-17, and oh, by the way, the Saints didn't score their second touchdown of the day until literally the last play of the game. An impressive score to be sure, but it was Cox's play in the middle of the game that helped the Eagles take control.
The interesting thing is the most sacks Cox has ever had in any season in his four-year career is 5.5, and here he was with three in one game and two caused fumbles that his team recovered to boot. If Cox stays healthy, he will almost assuredly smash his previous career best in sacks for a season, which may just get him paid during the offseason even though the Eagles already picked up his fifth-year option.
More importantly, his play on Sunday helped to keep his team in the hunt for the NFC East title. Had the Eagles lost and fallen to 1-4, their prospects for their season would have been mighty bleak. In light of that and the major difference Fletcher Cox made in getting that win, I'm awarding him my Hoss of The Week Award for Week 5.