Many believed that the 2019 Chicago Bears would build off of their 2018 success, specifically on defense. The 2018 defense was first in points and rushing yards allowed, while also being third in sacks. Many believe the pass rush set the tone of the defense, which was led by linebacker Khalil Mack. However, what can't be understated is the contribution from defensive end Akiem Hicks. In 2018, Hicks added 7.5 sacks and 29 pressures, while also logging 55 tackles, mostly in the running game. Between Mack, Hicks and Leonard Floyd, the trio combined for 24 sacks, 99 pressures and 149 tackles.
Lofty expectations aside, what happened in 2019? Well, to keep it simple, injuries happened. Danny Trevathan missed games, Prince Amukamara missed games, but most importantly, Akiem Hicks missed games. Out of sixteen games, Hicks only ended up starting and playing in five of them. In those five games, Hicks finished with one sack, nine pressures, five QB hits, and ten tackles. Even with injuries playing a role, something seemed to be different in Akiem Hicks' play from the season prior. However, when looking a bit closer at how his teammates fared in the 11 games without him, the impact can be measured.
In the five games with Hicks in the starting lineup, Khalil Mack had 14 combined tackles, three sacks and four hits on the quarterback. The other 11, however, Mack only had 33 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks and 10 hits on the quarterback. Leonard Floyd with Hicks in the lineup had 12 combined tackles, two sacks, and three hits on the quarterback compared to 28 combined tackles, one sack, and nine hits on the quarterback without the big defensive end. Many have suggested the down season from Khalil Mack can be attributed to Hicks being out of the lineup, while others have claimed it's just an excuse. What can't be denied is the amount of attention a player like Akiem Hicks receives in both the run and passing game.
The more weapons you have on your front seven, the more attention that needs to be spread by the opposing line. Adding a healthy Akiem Hicks back into the mix means offenses will be spread thin against a front of Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn, Bilal Nichols, and Eddie Goldman. Hicks is a matchup nightmare who can terrorize quarterbacks and sandwich running backs on all three downs, which is what makes him so valuable.
“If I can get my body back to a place where I can compete at a high level, there’s nothing that will stop me from getting on the field.”
- Akiem Hicks, 2019