Looking closer at Jordan Hicks' 1st game back from Achilles injury

Looking closer at Jordan Hicks' 1st game back from Achilles injury

Jordan Hicks is back. Like, really back. 

The Eagles went into Thursday night’s season opener against the Falcons without Nigel Bradham, who was serving a one-game suspension. And against a team that forces opposing defenses to stay in their base defense a lot, that seemed like a daunting challenge. Especially because the Eagles had to rely on Hicks, coming off an Achilles tear, and unproven Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill. 

All three had really good games. 

Not only did it prove that Hicks has fully healed from that Achilles tear that ended his 2017 season, it also showed the Eagles have better depth than we originally thought. 

But we’re going to focus on Hicks because it’s so important for this team that he stays healthy this season. Because when he’s on the field, he can be a game-changer. 

“He looked a lot like he always has,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. 

Let’s get it: 

It’s 1st-and-10 from the Eagles’ 39-yard line in the first quarter of a scoreless game. 

Hicks is circled in the middle of the field at the snap. The tight end is going to pull Malcolm Jenkins away from the middle of the field and Calvin Ridley settles into that zone. 

Hicks identifies that Ridley is about to settle in that zone and knows that Jenkins had to pick up the tight end. He also knows the help from the corner might be late arriving. 

Knowing exactly where the receiver is, Hicks turns his focus back to Matt Ryan and reads the veteran QB’s eyes. Ryan wanted to go to Ridley here the entire time. And Hicks was ready for it. 

If Hicks doesn’t get there, this is a nice 6- or 7-yard gain on first down. Instead, the Eagles eventually forced the Falcons into a 3rd-and-10. The Falcons converted that 3rd-and-long, but that’s where they’re trying to get on every set of downs. 

This was the most impressive play of the day from Hicks. It’s just a little delayed blitz that Schwartz dialed up. Schwartz doesn’t use blitzes often, but when he does, they can really work. Here’s a perfect example. 

Because of how much attention Fletcher Cox draws, Hicks is going to have a 1-on-1 situation against Devonta Freeman, who does his job, but is about to get run over. 

Freeman gets to his spot, but he’s no match for Hicks, who simply runs him over on his way to flying through the air like Superman to get a sack. 

Before this play, Hicks had just two career sacks. This one was emphatic. 

“I thought one of the biggest plays in the game was his sack,” Schwartz said. “It wasn't just getting the sack, but just the way he did it. It was such a physical play with such a — it really helped our defense sort of catch on fire.”

The penultimate play we’ll look at from Hicks comes early in the fourth quarter. This play actually results in an interception from Rasul Douglas near the sideline, but it’s Hicks who creates the pressure that leads to the pick. 

It’s 3rd-and-3 from the Eagles’ 13-yard line and the Falcons are threatening to take a lead. Schwartz dials up a blitz. Hicks and Rodney McLeod are coming.  

Freeman was once against charged with stopping Hicks, but the linebacker is going to get such a good push that Ryan is forced to release the ball early and can’t step into the throw. 

The result is that the ball is underthrown and gets picked off by Douglas. Big play from Douglas but it doesn’t happen if Hicks doesn’t provide the original pressure. 

This last play came on the final drive of the game, with 1:50 left on the clock. The Falcons were driving to win, but we know how that turned out. This play on 2nd-and-10 forced the Falcons into a 3rd-and-17 situation. They somehow were able to get 18 yards on the next play, but this should have been huge. 

Hicks starts the play at his normal MIKE position. His responsibility on this play appears to be to stick with the running back out of the backfield. But that’s going to change when Chris Long gets some pressure. 

Again, Cox demands attention. So Freeman stays in on this play and helps out with him on the line of scrimmage. On the left side of the line, Long gets enough pressure to force Ryan out of the pocket. 

Hicks has been watching the play develop, knows his man stayed in to block and now just has to make sure to not let Ryan scramble away from him. He drives toward Ryan to speed up the process.

This was another half sack for Hicks, who, remember, came into the game with just two in his career. 

Later in the game, Hicks did get a penalty on fourth down that gave the Falcons one more shot to win the game, but it was ticky-tacky. Still can’t make that mistake, but overall, he had a really good game. 

Bradham really stepped up last season as the Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl. It proved the Eagles could get by without their starting middle linebacker. But the Birds are simply much better when Hicks is on the field, especially when he plays like this. 

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Cowboys part ways with OC Scott Linehan, and Dez Bryant has a laugh

Cowboys part ways with OC Scott Linehan, and Dez Bryant has a laugh

After five seasons of ups and downs, the Cowboys have moved on from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and are now in the hunt for a new play-caller. 

Linehan joined the Cowboys as a passing game coordinator in 2014, but was promoted to OC in 2015 and held that title for four seasons. 

But he was the team’s play-caller for the last five seasons and one of his former stars seemed to chime in on social media Friday afternoon: 

After it was announced on Friday, Jason Garrett released a pretty bland statement about the decision. 

The decision was slightly surprising because Linehan was expected to return. But the Cowboys really struggled earlier this past season and Linehan and his play-calling were criticized often. 

Here’s a look at the Cowboys’ offense over the five years with Linehan. 

2018: 21.2 points per game (22nd), 343.8 yards per game (22nd)
2017: 22.1 points per game (14th), 331.9 yards per game (14th)
2016: 26.3 points per game (5th), 376.7 yards per game (5th)
2015: 17.2 points per game (31st), 335.1 yards per game (22nd)
2014: 29.2 points per game (5th), 383.6 yards per game (7th)

Definitely some ups and downs during his time in North Texas. During his five years, the Cowboys had some great rushing years with Ezekiel Elliott and DeMarco Murray. But the passing game never really caught up, even when it had the best offensive line in football. 

Since the Cowboys peaked in 2016, there has been a steady decline the last two seasons. 

We’ll see who the Cowboys hire as a play-caller or if they’d opt to hand that responsibility back to Garrett. The Cowboys might just be limited because Dak Prescott, while a solid quarterback, is also a limited player.

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Exploring top landing spots this offseason for Nick Foles

Exploring top landing spots this offseason for Nick Foles

We’ve already examined all the factors that are going to go into the Eagles’ decision about Nick Foles (see story), but now it’s time to figure out where he’s going to land. 

While oddsmakers left the Eagles on the board, it seems pretty clear that Foles is going to move on to another team one way or another this offseason. I still think the most likely way he leaves is as a free agent, but there could also be a trade if the Eagles can work one out and Foles is agreeable. 

Anyway, let’s try to figure out where Foles will land with the help of some odds. 

OK, let’s go team by team: 

Miami Dolphins
It seems like the Dolphins are ready to move on from Ryan Tannehill as their starting quarterback after six seasons and a 42-46 record. Cutting Tannehill would leave a ton of dead money ($13 million) but would also save $13 million in cap room. If the Dolphins really want to move on, the dead money will be worth it. 

Keeping with the theme of 13, that’s where the Dolphins pick this year. Now, just a few years ago, the Eagles were able to move from 13 to 8 to 2 to draft Carson Wentz, but unless the Dolphins are willing to do that, they’re kind of in no man's land in the middle of the first round wanting a QB in a QB-deficient draft. So maybe they need to go the free agency route. 

Adam Gase is gone and the presumed new head coach will be the Patriots’ Brian Flores. He’ll likely be hired whenever the Patriots’ season is over, either this weekend or in a couple weeks. Maybe he’ll sign the guy he watched outduel Tom Brady in Super Bowl LII. 

Washington Redskins 
Last offseason, they picked up Alex Smith, but his injury is really significant, so it’s time to find somebody new. It would make more sense for them to try to get a young quarterback to build around, but they have the 15th pick. 

And Dan Snyder can probably talk himself into thinking they’re a QB away. Remember when the Redskins got off to their 6-3 start in 2018. Well, then they had crazy injuries, so he might look at his team and think it's a lot closer than it actually is. 

Jacksonville Jaguars 
These odds actually came out before we learned Jacksonville was about to hire John DeFilippo as its offensive coordinator, so you can argue it should be even higher on the list now. Flip coached Foles for just one year in Philly, but that year ended with a parade on Broad Street. 

The Jags had a disastrous 5-11 season in 2018, but that came after they were 10-6 the year before. So if they think there’s still enough talent in that locker room to be a playoff team, they might just be one QB away. While Foles threw some interceptions this year, he ain’t Blake Bortles in that respect. He could give the Jags the chance to win close, defensive games as long as he doesn’t make mistakes. 

They do have the seventh pick, though, so maybe the Jaguars ought to think about drafting a QB. 

Denver Broncos
Case Keenum is still under contract in Denver, but it shouldn’t let that change anything it does at the quarterback position. In fact, John Elway told Peter King that Keenum was more of a short-term fix. That doesn’t sound good for Keenum. 

Foles is still just 29, so it’s not like he couldn’t be a longer-term fix. And picking at 10th in the draft doesn’t guarantee the Broncos will be able to draft the next QB either. Foles might be as good an option as any. 

Philadelphia Eagles 
Howie Roseman said on Tuesday that the Eagles would like to keep Foles, but how realistic is that? They’ve committed to Carson Wentz being the quarterback, so can they afford to have an insurance policy of over $20 million? The problem here is that’s money they could use elsewhere to build a team around Wentz. And is it fair to the franchise quarterback to always be looking over his shoulder? Even Wentz admitted there’s an added level of pressure after all of Foles’ success. 

The flip side of this is that Wentz hasn’t stayed healthy. He’s been injured in both of the last two seasons and Foles has stepped in for the playoffs. We’d have to just trust that Wentz is going to stay healthy next season. As insurance policies go, Foles is the best one. 

New York Giants 
Eventually, the Giants have to move on from Eli Manning, right? They really should move on from the 38-year-old quarterback now and I think Foles would make a lot of sense. 

The Giants clearly have some offensive weapons and could use a steadying force like Foles, who has played for head coach Pat Shurmur before. 

The big fear about Foles is that he’ll only work in Philadelphia. Well, why not go to a landing spot with an offense that at least has some similarities? Remember, Shurmur was in Philly for Foles’ Pro Bowl 2013 season under Chip Kelly and comes from the Andy Reid tree, which means his offense has similarities to Doug Pederson’s in some ways too. From a purely football standpoint, I like the Giants as a landing spot. But there are some emotional hurdles to get over. 

Oakland Raiders
Head coach Jon Gruden and GM Mike Mayock seem to love Foles and they might be ready to move on from Derek Carr in Oakland or wherever the heck they’re going to play this season. Mayock and Gruden both have ties to Philly and are both very familiar with Foles. 

The Raiders also have three first-round picks, so if the Eagles end up trying to trade Foles instead of letting him walk, the Raiders have the firepower to get a deal done — if that’s the way they want to go. 

It doesn’t mean much, but Foles’ seven-touchdown game came against the Raiders in 2013. 

Carolina Panthers
Apparently, Cam Newton might be in danger of missing the 2019 season because of a shoulder injury. So if the Panthers think he’s not around in the 2019 season, they’ll need someone to play quarterback. Enter Foles? 

The problem here is that Foles wants to go to a good situation and I’m not sure this is it. Newton has one more year left on his contract after 2019, which means Foles would have to play well enough to make the Panthers change their organizational direction and go with him instead. Don’t know why he’d choose that as a free agent. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 
The Bucs hired Bruce Arians as their head coach, but it seems like they’re sticking with Jameis Winston at QB. If there’s a change, maybe it would make sense for Foles. But if there isn’t, not sure why they’re on the list. 

A bonus one from me: Cincinnati Bengals
I’m not convinced the Bengals are going to stick with Andy Dalton, which would make Foles an attractive option, especially for new head coach Zac Taylor, who is the brother of Eagles QBs coach Press Taylor. The Bengals still have A.J. Green and Joe Mixon, so it might not be that bad of a landing spot for Foles.

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