The 2018 Bears defense is historically great, and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is part of why. Through 13 games Hicks has six sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hits, two pass disruptions, and three forced fumbles.
Hicks’ stats do not give him justice, however. With Khalil Mack joining him the Bears have the most destructive pass rushing duo in all of football. Hicks’ excellence against the run and power against the pass allow Mack a much easier opportunity to pressure the quarterback, and as such defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s job is made easier as he gets all sorts of players involved on the Bears’ pass rush.
Hicks was not thought of highly by the Saints and Patriots, but has found a home in Chicago and is one of the defense’s catalysts. He does almost everything and anything on that defensive line and is a master technician.
Against the Vikings in Week 11, Hicks had six tackles, five tackles for loss, a pass disruption on a two-point conversion attempt, a sack, and two quarterback hits. As the yin to Khalil Mack’s yang, Hicks’ presence in the run game shut down the Vikings in that department, where they only produced 22 rushing yards. In fact, the Bears defense has held opponents to under 70 yards six times on the season.
Here, on a 3rd and inches for Minnesota, Hicks’ phenomenal inside move on tackle Brian O’Neill leads a path for other defensive linemen like Eddie Goldman (#91) as the Bears swarm Latavius Murray and shut the play down for a loss of one.
But Hicks is not just a run stopper. He’s in a league of his own as well against the pass. He leads the Bears in quarterback hits with 14 (yes, more than Khalil Mack, who has 12) and tackles for loss (11, while Mack has 7).
Against Buccaneers right guard Caleb Benenoch, Hicks performs a simple two-handed shove countering Benenoch’s high hands with ease as he has little trouble navigating the B-gap. Hicks is then able to drag Ryan Fitzpatrick to the turf like a rag doll for the sack.
As you may have noticed this season, the Bears have so much talent at the defensive line, with a massive part of it coming from Mack and Hicks. Chicago dials up a stunt on Fitzpatrick’s blind side, successfully shutting that down. The Buccaneers also double block Khalil Mack on the near side, also shutting him down with success. But what that does is put Hicks one-on-one with Benenoch, and it’s no contest.
And just like Mack helps Hicks create pressure, the same is true for Hicks helping Mack dial up the duress.
Here, the Rams interior line is focused on stuffing Hicks. The Rams are arguably the most well-disciplined team in all of football and yet the Bears defense exploited them throughout the night. That the Rams fear Hicks this much opens up Mack to go one on one against right tackle Rob Havenstein.
Mack easily gets inside Havenstein’s lane and puts more than enough pressure on Jared Goff to force a throwaway. When Mack was not at 100% for the games against the Dolphins and Patriots, the Bears defensive line could not operate at the same level it did otherwise. Once Mack got back up to speed, he and Hicks have been the bread and butter of this dominant defense since.
Now let’s get back to Akiem Hicks kicking ass.
First off, this is a clutch fourth down sack in the fourth quarter when it was a 15-6 game. Second, the way Hicks gets this sack just displays why he’s so good for this Bears defense. He executes what I like to call a three-step club counter move against the right guard Austin Blythe, preventing Blythe’s hands from stopping him. Once Hicks has that little bit of leverage, he executes a swim move and gets his inside hand over Blythe’s upper body to give him full leverage on the play.
The rest is history as Hicks devours Goff for lunch, dinner, and saves room for dessert. Now that’s poetry.
Just as Akiem Hicks couldn’t operate the same way without Khalil Mack, Khalil Mack can’t operate the same way without Akiem Hicks. Since Hicks arrived in Chicago he’s been nothing short of spectacular as a 3-4 lineman, a defensive end, and a defensive tackle. He’s established himself as one of the most complete pass rushers in football despite what his raw stats might say.
Simply put, you can only name only one better defensive tackle than Hicks, and that man is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year. That’s how highly regarded this savage beast should be held to. A dominant run and pass stopper, few in 2018 have done it better than Akiem Hicks.
(Featured image via Sports Mockery)