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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Eagles sign CB Dexter McDougle, waive injured DT Destiny Vaeao

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Eagles sign CB Dexter McDougle, waive injured DT Destiny Vaeao

With Sidney Jones facing a significant layoff, the Eagles on Tuesday re-signed cornerback Dexter McDougle, who spent the first half of last year with the team.

McDougle, a third-round pick of the Jets in 2014, played in eight games for the Eagles last year, mainly on special teams.

Jones suffered a hamstring injury early in the Giants game Thursday night, and head coach Doug Pederson indicated he could miss significant time. McDougle gives the Eagles experience in the slot along with special teams ability.

McDougle played 55 snaps on defense last year, more than half in the 49ers game in place of injured Patrick Robinson. He also played 135 snaps on special teams. 

He was released on Nov. 13. He spent a week with the Saints later in the season then spent time with both the Jaguars and Lions during the offseason but has been out of football since the Lions released him on Aug. 31.

To make room on the 53-man roster for McDougle, the Eagles waived/injured defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao. He'll land on injured reserve if he clears waivers. Vaeao has played the second-most snaps on the team this year among defensive tackles.

Vaeao hasn’t been listed on the Eagles’ injury report, so apparently, he got hurt either in or since the Giants game. He played 28 snaps and picked up his third career sack in the win Thursday night.

With Tim Jernigan out and Haloti Ngata injured, Vaeao has been a big part of the defensive line rotation. He’s averaged 26 snaps per game so far this year with three starts.

Ngata hasn’t played the last two weeks after getting hurt in the Titans game.

With Jernigan, Ngata and Vaeao out of the picture, the only healthy defensive tackle on the roster other than All-Pro Fletcher Cox is Treyvon Hester, who was promoted from the practice squad two weeks ago and played 11 and 15 snaps the last two games.

The Eagles like Hester, a seventh-round pick of the Raiders last year, and he played well Thursday night. 

But it’s hard to imagine they would go into the Carolina game with only two pure inside defensive linemen, so that indicates that Ngati could be healthy enough to play. Or another move is possible.

The Eagles did add a defensive tackle to the practice squad Tuesday. Winston Craig joins the practice squad and takes the place of linebacker Kyle Wilson, who the Eagles just signed on Oct. 2.

Craig, 23, has had three separate stints on the Eagles’ practice squad. He spent the entire offseason with the Eagles and was on the practice squad the first week of the season.

One other defensive tackle is on the practice squad, Bruce Hector, who spent the first four weeks of the season on the 53 and got 18 snaps on defense.

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New NFL rules make defending Cam Newton harder than ever

New NFL rules make defending Cam Newton harder than ever

A big concern for the Eagles this weekend is figuring out exactly when Cam Newton is a passer and when he's a runner.
With Newton, there's often no clear line. He runs when it looks like he's going to throw, and he throws when it looks like he's going to run.
This makes him more dangerous than ever because the way officials are calling hits on quarterbacks, the Eagles' defenders have to be very careful how and when they hit Newton, even when it looks like he's going to take off scrambling.
Because the officials will still protect him as a quarterback until he's beyond the line of scrimmage and clearly established as a runner.

"It certainly makes it difficult," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "When he's sitting there like this (assumes QB stance), he's still a runner. He's protected like a passer, but he can run at any time, not just when he's out of the pocket. They have designed runs that are almost Wildcat-type plays. He's taken direct snap and running quarterback power and quarterback counter and things like that. If he's in a passing posture, he gets protection. If he's running, then he doesn't, but, again, sometimes you have a hard time deciphering between the two."

Newton has 4,528 rushing yards since entering the NFL in 2011, third-most in NFL history among quarterbacks behind two former Eagles — Michael Vick (6,109) and Randall Cunningham (4,928).
New Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner has incorporated Newton's running ability into the Carolina offense more than ever, to the point that Newton, at 29 years old, is on pace for a career high in rushing attempts. 

And while most running quarterbacks slow down as they get older, Newton is on pace for 666 rushing yards this year, which would be his second-most since 2012.
"Cam Newton has opened up every design run that you can imagine," Schwartz said. "They've really ramped up their designed quarterback runs this year over anything they've done in the past."

Schwartz spoke about what makes the Panthers' running game with Newton so dangerous.

Probably their willingness to do it in all down and distances and all field positions. There's a lot of teams that will run zone read stuff in the red zone or on a short yardage play. But Carolina, I don't think you can put any kind of constraint on down and distance. Third-down and whatever, you still got to handle the quarterback's designed runs, 2nd-and-20. I think (Sunday vs. the Redskins) they had 2nd-and-17 or 2nd-and-20, and they ran the quarterback. There's a lot of other teams you can take him off your radar in those situations. Not in this game. Every time that ball is snapped, whether it's a designed run or just an off-schedule scramble, we're going to have to account for him.

Newton is throwing the football better than ever, too. He's hitting on 66 percent of his passes — far over his career average of 59 percent — with nine TDs and four interceptions.
The Eagles have done OK against running quarterbacks, although they did allow Andrew Luck — a non-running QB — a career-long 33-yard scramble earlier this year.
Newton ran for 71 yards against the Eagles last year in Charlotte although he also threw three interceptions, and the Eagles won 28-23. 

Newton has faced all 31 teams other than the Panthers in his career and his lowest passer rating is against the Eagles at 69.4.

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