Akiem Hicks’ return would be a boost, but Bears have to make it count

Akiem Hicks’ return would be a boost, but Bears have to make it count

Akiem Hicks returned to practice at Halas Hall on Sunday, putting the star defensive lineman on track to be activated off injured reserve for the Bears’ Week 15 trip to play the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. 

Getting Hicks back from the gruesome elbow injury he suffered Oct. 6 in London would undoubtedly be a massive boost to a team that’s missed his play and presence over the last eight weeks. While coach Matt Nagy was not ready to guarantee Hicks’ return on Dec. 15 in Green Bay, he said activating the 2018 Pro Bowler won’t hinge on the result of the 6-6 Bears’ Thursday night game against the Dallas Cowboys this week. 

“If Akiem is ready to play and ready to go for the Green Bay Packers game, then regardless of anything we want him to be able to play,” Nagy said. 

Hicks has only played in four games this year, with his elbow injury occurring early in the Bears’ Week 5 loss to the Oakland Raiders. He doesn’t seem like the kind of player who would take kindly to the suggestion he get shut down for the final games of a lost season, anyway — as Nagy said, if he’s healthy, he’ll play. 

So now it’s on the Bears to make sure Hicks’ return could legitimately mean something for their 2019 season. Meaning: In their last expected game without Hicks this season, they need to beat the Dallas Cowboys. 

A win over Dallas would improve the Bears’ record to 7-6, though the team would still face an uphill climb to playoff-race relevancy even with a win. They’d need to run the table against the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings — with games against the Packers and Vikings being on the road — while getting plenty of help around the league. 

But it’d be a lot easier to buy the possibility of a miraculous playoff push with Hicks on the field. Consider what it could do for Khalil Mack:

Mack with Hicks in 2019 (3 games, not including Oakland): 3 sacks, 20 pressures
Mack without Hicks (9 games): 2.5 sacks, 37 pressures

Mack has been the focus of offensive gameplans ever since Hicks’ injury, with teams selling out to make sure Mack doesn’t wreck a game. That’s meant frequent double- and triple-teams, with tight ends, running backs, wide receivers, tackles and guards all contributing to keeping Mack away from opposing quarterbacks. 

And it’s led to Mack not having the sort of impact he had when Hicks was on the field to absorb some scheming focus. The Bears’ other pass rushers — like Leonard Floyd — have not won one-on-one matchups, allowing teams to commit resources to blocking Mack with little downside. 

That’ll change in the case of Hicks comeback, and it would affect the entire defense. A better pass rush does a better job scrambling the decision-making of opposing quarterbacks, leading to more opportunities for interceptions for the Bears’ secondary. More sacks and throwaways keep opposing offenses at or behind the chains, leading to difficult third downs. And Hicks’ impact on stopping the run is massive. 

But Hicks’ impact extends beyond how he affects a given game with his play. Defensive lineman Eddie Goldman pointed to Hicks’ ability to make plays in critical moments, citing his forced fumble at the goal line against the Miami Dolphins in 2018 as an example. 

“In situations like that, that’s where you see it the most,” Goldman said. “When you think you’re down and out, and it’s like he just makes a play. He gives you the energy to keep going when you think there’s no more, you know what I mean?”

And fellow defensive lineman Nick Williams said Hicks’ presence on the practice field can make a significant impact, too. 

“He’s a Pro Bowl defensive lineman in this league,” Williams said. “So any time you get that guy back at a practice it just sparks and excitement amongst us and we want to go out here these next four games and give it our all.”

Barring something unexpected, it appears Hicks will return in 2019. It’ll certainly matter to him, and matter to his teammates. 

But for it to matter in the NFC playoff race? The Bears have to beat Dallas first.  

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Madden 21 rating leaks: Chicago Bears Top-10 overall rated players

Madden 21 rating leaks: Chicago Bears Top-10 overall rated players

As Madden 21 ratings continue to leak out, one site claims to have gotten a hold of the Top-10 players for each team. According to Madden School, a website that says they’ve served the Madden community for 13 years, the Bears only have one player rated over 90-- Khalil Mack at 97. That’s one point lower than where Mack finished the season on Madden 20.

Here’s the full list for the Bears:

Khalil Mack: 97 overall

Eddie Jackson: 89 overall

Allen Robinson: 89 overall

Akiem Hicks: 88 overall

Kyle Fuller: 85 overall

Eddie Goldman: 84 overall

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Roquan Smith: 83 overall

Robert Quinn: 82 overall

Charles Leno Jr.: 81 overall

Cody Whitehair: 81 overall

It’s important to note that none of these numbers came with picture or video evidence from early copies of the game.

Unsurprisingly, only one offensive skill player cracked the Top-10 for the Bears, Allen Robinson. Equally unsurprising is the fact that seven of the Top-10 are on defense.

EA Sports began releasing the official Madden 21 ratings on Monday, and will continue to do so through Friday.

RELATED: Madden 21 rating leaks: Another source says Khalil Mack may have lost elite 99-overall status


Here's where Maurice Jones-Drew ranks David Montgomery among NFL running backs

Here's where Maurice Jones-Drew ranks David Montgomery among NFL running backs

Former NFL running back and current NFL Network personality, Maurice Jones-Drew, published his ranking of the top-32 running backs in the NFL on Monday and, of course, the Bears didn't get much love. To be more specific, David Montgomery was downright disrespected.

To be fair, MJD's assessment (or ranking) of Montgomery wasn't entirely based on No. 32's talent. Instead, it appears the Bears' offense -- and Matt Nagy -- is why Jones-Drew isn't high on the former Iowa State star.

Montgomery checked-in at No. 27 on MJD's list.

Montgomery's success depends on whether or not Matt Nagy wants to run the ball. They abandoned the run game week after week in 2019, and it showed in the team's 8-8 record. I'm expecting Montgomery to get the bulk of the carries and Tarik Cohen to continue to be frequently used in certain packages. The second-year back can do a little bit of everything, but needs Nagy to commit to running the rock.

It's hard to tell whether or not MJD believes Montgomery has the talent to be a top-10 running back in the NFL. He describes him as a player who can do 'a little bit of everything,' but doesn't necessarily suggest he can do any one thing really well. There are a lot of running backs in the NFL who fit that description, and they're normally playing backup to starter with a stronger skill set.

Running backs who were ranked in the same range as Montgomery included James Conner (Steelers, No. 25) and Sony Michel (Patriots, No. 26). Detroit's Kerryon Johnson was 28th.

Whether you take MJD's list seriously or put any weight into it at all is your call. But keep this in mind: he said he'd rank himself similarly to Adrian Peterson (23rd) if he decided to come out of retirement in 2020. 

As for Montgomery, it's fair to question his long-term outlook considering the narrative around the running back position. It isn't all that difficult to find a quality starter, and with next offseason presenting a potentially historic class of available running backs, Montgomery is certainly on the hot seat. He ran for just 889 yards as a rookie in 2019.

Preseason rankings are fun exercises to evaluate the landscape of the league, but they're also extremely volatile. Montgomery can quickly become one of the most respected running backs in the NFL if he gets off to a hot start early in the 2020 season.