Cardinals LB Jordan Hicks believes defense is finding its identity
One of the most glaring weaknesses for the Arizona Cardinals this season has been on the defensive side of the ball.
Among the NFL, the defense sits dead last in yards per game (413.1), passing yards (4,066) and second to only the Miami Dolphins in average points allowed (28.4). To add to the woes, injuries and off-the-field issues have helped stunt the growth of the young unit, taking two steps back after each step forward.
But while veteran linebacker Jordan Hicks has watched the team struggle on that side of the football, he’s starting to see the progress Arizona has made translate into a better overall product.
“At the end of the day, I think we had a pretty good week last week as well, I think we’re stacking. You can tell we’re getting better,” Hicks told the Burns & Gambo show on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station Monday. “I think we’re stacking weeks on weeks and again, we’re continuing to focus on the process. I think that was by far the best team win for sure if you look at special teams, offense, defense, the whole combination of how we played together.
“There wasn’t one moment in that game where we felt momentum had shifted towards the Browns. That’s got to be the standard every week and that’s what we’re striving for right now.”
In Sunday’s 38-24 win over Cleveland, the Cardinals were head and shoulders the better team on the field. While the offense turned to the legs of running back Kenyan Drake for four scores, the defense had a number of contributors make a difference.
“I think we’re starting to find our identity. It’s taken a little while, we’ve gone through some turmoil, we’ve gone through some transition but we’re finding our core players,” Hicks said. “We’re finding the guys that are gonna be dependable, gonna be out there each and every down and give it their all. I think we’ve got an awesome core group of guys.
“At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. You’ve got to have depth, you’ve got to be able to replace guys that aren’t going to be there on the field but the core of this defense is obviously something to definitely look forward to.”
Leading the way was Hicks, who turned in his eighth 10-tackle performance, the first Cardinal to do so since Pat Tillman and Ronald McKinnon in 2000. He was joined by linebacker Chandler Jones, who registered a sack and five tackles, and cornerback Patrick Peterson, who added seven tackles, an interception and three passes defensed.
The win marked the second straight game of holding opponents to under 30 points, something they hadn’t done the past three weeks. The win total may not reflect the improved defense, but Hicks can see the work being put in, knowing they’re getting closer to their goal.
“This team never wavered in terms of being together. It was just a matter of how can we fix the little things that keep biting us week in and week out,” Hicks said. “A lot of that is situational football, a lot of that is just maturation. You know, we’re a young team, we’re in a new system, we’re trying to figure this thing out but we’ve got to get better and we’ve got to continue to work. And that’s what we did, we continued to work and focus on the process rather than the specific circumstance.”
For Hicks, his first year in the desert isn’t anything new. He’s seen the growing pains of a young defense looking to get back to relevance.
“It’s always a disappointment to lose, nobody in this league wants to lose,” Hicks said. “Everybody’s competitors, everybody’s trying to win, that’s the name of the game, but I’ve been in this situation before.
“I’ve been with a rookie head coach, I’ve been with a rookie quarterback, I’ve been through losing seasons before and had to be patient and watch the maturation of a team happen, and ultimately go on to win a Super Bowl. I understand the process and I understand you earn what you get and that’s all we’re trying to do here. At the end of the day, it’s hard to win in this league and you can’t take them for granted.”
With that type of mentality, Hicks is one of the more valued assets on the defense, clearly buying into the new regime from Day 1. The linebacker is a stout defender, combining for totaling 131 tackles, but adds a crucial leadership role in the heart of the defense.
“I believed in the vision we have here. I knew the first pick was imminent and I knew that the role that I was going to play on the defense was going to be a high one so I wanted to be valued, I felt valued, I felt that they were going to sue me in the right way and again, I believed in the vision, I believed that this team was headed in the right direction. I love the combination of all three of those.”