This is a make-or-break season for Eagles' Jordan Hicks

This is a make-or-break season for Eagles' Jordan Hicks

Not many people question Jordan Hicks’ ability. They question his availability. 

And based on his track record, that’s not unfair. 

Hicks, 26, has played three NFL seasons with the Eagles and two of them have ended on injured reserve, including last season, when he tore his Achilles. And before he entered the NFL, injuries plagued him during his time at the University of Texas.  

So as Hicks enters the final year of his rookie contract, this is a make-or-break season for the talented middle linebacker. 

He knows it. 

Here’s what Hicks said in a 1-on-1 with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Derrick Gunn earlier this week: 

Gotta stay healthy. I gotta prove it. Obviously, that shows a lack of ability to have that faith in me that I’m going to be out there. That puts a chip on my shoulder. I embrace it. I gotta attack it. Gotta prove it. 

If Hicks is healthy this season, it could be a huge boost for the Eagles’ defense as they try to repeat as Super Bowl champions. He’s their middle linebacker, signal caller and one of the most important pieces on Jim Schwartz’s unit. Simply put, he’s a playmaker. 

In 31 career games, he has seven interceptions (one returned for a TD), one forced fumble, three fumbles recovered and two sacks. Hicks is one of just four linebackers who have at least seven interceptions in the last three seasons (along with Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Ryan Shazier). And Hicks has played fewer games than all of them. 

Hicks just seems to have a knack for making game-changing plays. 

But he can only do that when he’s on the field. 

Going back to his college career, his list of injuries is as extensive as his list of on-field accomplishments. 

  • Groin injury in 2012
  • Achilles tear in 2013
  • Torn pec in 2015 
  • Another torn Achilles in 2017 

While Hicks has been an extremely productive player, that’s four of the last six years with a significant injury. Heck, he even broke his hand last offseason at the pool in Greece on his honeymoon. Hicks hates the “injury prone” label, but even if he plays all 16 games this season, he probably won’t shake it. Remember, he played all 16 games in 2016 and thought this was all behind him. Turns out it wasn’t. 

Even if Hicks plays well this season, the Eagles are going to have to ask themselves whether or not they really feel comfortable hitching their wagon to him with a long-term deal. 

For now, Hicks is a tremendous value if he stays healthy. He’s going to get paid less than $2 million this year, but if he has a big season, he’s going to want his first payday. Even if he plays every game, based on his history, that’s a gamble. 

Because Hicks knows how important his health is, he works extremely hard on his body. He’s completely healed from that last Achilles tear and looks good in training camp. He even dropped that infamous training camp line about being in the best shape of his life. 

“I feel like I picked up where I left off. I really don’t feel like I’ve lost a step at all,” Hicks said. 

That’s great if he’s on the field. Hicks has to prove that first. 

More on the Eagles

Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh concerned by Titans' pass rush

USA Today Images

Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh concerned by Titans' pass rush

Three takeaways from Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh’s chat with the media Tuesday:

Did you see what the Titans did to Blake Bortles?

The Titans are fourth in the NFL in point allowed (16.7 per game), and they really did a terrific job on Blake Bortles Sunday, limiting the Jaguars’ quarterback to just 155 yards on 34 passing yards and sacking him three times. Bortles’ longest completion went for just 19 yards.

“They just made it really challenging on Bortles,” Groh said. “They got good pressure, (and) he couldn't really set his feet in the pocket and make any throws. They had some throws down the field to make, but he would have to move off his spot, and then when he tried to reset the throw there was somebody else in his face and he couldn't get the ball out of there.”

This is big because the Eagles are coming off a game in which Carson Wentz was sacked five times, matching the most sacks the Eagles have allowed at home in five years. 

It wasn’t all on the offensive line. Wentz did run into some trouble Sunday. But the bottom line is that the offensive line has to pass block better and give Wentz time to work. If they don’t, it’s going to be a difficult day Sunday.

Why opening in no-huddle made so much sense 

One of the underrated coaching moves Doug Pederson and Mike Groh did Sunday was opening the game in no-huddle. What better way to get a quarterback who hadn’t played in 9 ½ months into a quick rhythm?

This wasn’t out of the Chip Kelly playbook. Running tempo all the time is lunacy because of the pressure it puts on a defense. But as a change-of-pace, it can be a tremendous weapon, and it was Sunday.

Wentz was 5-for-7 for 55 yards and a touchdown to Dallas Goedert on that drive, with all but the first snap coming on no-huddle.

“Just another way to try to get Carson immediately into the game and into the flow of the game and not have any time to think about anything,” Groh said. “Just get up to the line of scrimmage and be able to conduct the game from there.”

Where are the big plays?

There are a lot of explanations for the lack of big plays from the Eagles' offense so far.

No Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace or Mack Hollins. No Darren Sproles or Jay Ajayi last week. A quarterback change. A couple new coaches.

But the reality is that the Eagles are making it very difficult on themselves by not getting the football down the field.

They have only five pass plays of 20 yards or more so far, and only the Bears (four), Cowboys (three) and Titans (three) have fewer. 

“We haven't had as many explosive passes as we would like,” Groh said. “For 40 minutes (time of possession), we would like to have more than 20 points. We left some points out there on the field.”

Yeah, you can’t control the clock for 40:20 minutes and score just 20 points. The Eagles are only the third team in the last 10 years to do that (not counting OT). But that’s what happens when you don’t hit big plays. You can move the ball all over the place between the 20s, but you don’t score. The Eagles were fortunate to escape with a win Sunday but they won’t be able to get away with it every week.

More on the Eagles

Titans love to run, which will play right into Eagles' hands

AP Images

Titans love to run, which will play right into Eagles' hands

In an era where the average team throws 41 times a game and runs 24 times a game, the Tennessee Titans are a rare exception to NFL convention.

They run more than they throw. Way more.

The Titans love to run. Which should play right into the Eagles’ hands Sunday, when they face the Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

The Titans are averaging 32.7 rushing attempts per game so far, second-most in the league (they have one carry fewer than the Redskins). But they’re only 24th in yards per carry (3.7).

It’s an anachronistic way of operating an offense in the NFL these days.

So far, the Titans have run 54 percent of the time and thrown just 46 percent.

The league averages are 37 and 63.

So Tennessee runs 27 percent more than the average 2018 NFL team.

They’re averaging six more rushing attempts per game through three weeks than passing attempts.

The combination of a very good defense and ball control means the Titans want to win low-scoring games, like they did Sunday, 9-6 over Jacksonville.

They’ve only scored three offensive TDs this year, but they’re 2-1.

The Titans are the only NFL team that hasn’t scored or allowed more than 50 points, and they’re actually only the third team to do that after three games in the last nine years.

But in the Eagles, the Titans will see the best rushing defense in the league.

Since 2016, they’ve allowed an NFL-low 89 rushing yards per game. This year, that number is an NFL-best 61.7, their lowest since 2008.

At their current pace, the Eagles will become only the 11th team since 1960 to allow fewer than 1,300 rushing yards in consecutive seasons.

The Eagles have faced 54 runs so far this year, only four for 10 yards or more and only two of those by running backs.

Nobody has even rushed for 40 yards against the Eagles in their last five games, the first time that’s happened since the last two games of 2002 and the first five games of 2003.

The Eagles haven’t allowed a second-half run over nine yards this year and just one over six yards.

So a team that wants to run far more than it throws is about to take on a historically great rush defense.

“They are committed to the run,” Jim Schwartz said. “They've invested a lot of resources in it.

“Drafted a couple offensive lineman, offensive tackles (in the first round). They’ve got a veteran offensive line. They have a Heisman Trophy running back. They had probably their premier free-agent pick-up this year, Dion Lewis, and they have a running quarterback.

“So obviously it's what they want to do and they're committed to it, so it's our job to combat that. … So our goal is to get opponents stopped. However we do it, we do it.”

Lewis is the Titans’ leading rusher with 143 yards but only 3.7 per carry. Derrick Henry, the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner for Alabama, has 139 yards but only a 3.0 average.

QB Marcus Mariota is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has a 5.9 career average, ninth-highest in NFL history.

He’s really the Titans’ only threat in the backfield.

“He's probably the fastest quarterback in the NFL right now,” Schwartz said. “Looks like a 40-yard dash he's running so fast.”

More on the Eagles