By Nick Shook
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The Eagles are the NFC’s top seed and were the darlings of the league until Carson Wentz was lost to injury.
Now that they’re riding with backup quarterback Nick Foles, the prevailing thought ahead of Saturday’s Divisional Round meeting with the Atlanta Falcons is Philadelphia doesn’t have the best chance of victory.
No skin off Fletcher Cox‘s back.
“That just puts a bigger chip on our shoulder,” Cox said, via ESPN’s Tim McManus. “It just adds fuel to the fire. That’s what this team, obviously, has been going off of all year. Big chip on our shoulder.
“People doubted us every week, so we just want to go out there and shut those doubters up because at the same time, we are the only people, in this locker room, that believe in us.”
Find most followers of football and ask them where they saw the Eagles during the middle of the season — after a 37-9 bludgeoning of the Dallas Cowboys, for example — and you’d be hard-pressed to find a non-believer. But “nobody believes in us” has been proven as a great locker-room unifer in the past.
It makes sense now, though, considering how different the Eagles‘ offense has looked with Foles under center. Statistically, he hasn’t been horrible, but Philadelphia has lacked the tempo and explosive nature that made it one of the league’s most imposing teams for much of the regular season. As Foles has worked his way toward feeling comfortable — including being a beat or two slow in his progressions and decision-making — Philadelphia’s offense has resembled a 1999 Honda Civic in need of an oil change and transmission fluid flush.
In defense of Cox, he’s part of a unit that features one of the league’s most menacing front sevens. Per Pro Football Focus, Philadelphia’s defense finished as the second-best unit in the league, trailing only Jacksonville. Despite landing near the middle of the pack in sacks (38), the Eagles had the NFL’s best pass rush, per PFF.
Individually, Cox is the league’s second-most-productive pass rushing interior lineman, according to PFF, trailing only Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins. On 391 pass-rushing snaps, Cox has recorded 50 pressures.
Philadelphia will need a pressure-filled performance to bottle up Atlanta’s offense, which isn’t what it was in 2016, but put up 26 points on the Rams‘ formidable defense in the wild-card round. The less pressure on Foles, the better the Eagles‘ chances of victory.