The Bears' defense didn't allow a rushing touchdown through the first three games of 2019. Over that stretch, teams (Green Bay, Denver, Washington) averaged 3.06 yards per carry against them, and the Bears held all three under 100 yards rushing. It looked like this:
Those numbers represent how much success Green Bay, Denver, and Washington had running the ball in certain directions. That's a lot of red (and one weird green?) on the interior, where Akiem Hicks was lined up for 147 snaps. It's a small sample size, but the Pro Bowl defensive tackles influence is noticeable. It's even more noticeable, though, in the same chart for the following seven weeks:
Teams were averaging 3.4 yards per carry (YPC) in Hicks' direction through the first three games. After that, Hicks played eight more snaps before being put on IR, and that YPC has shot up to 4.1. Since then, the Bears have also allowed eight rushing touchdowns, with at least one in every game except for last week's Detroit win. Over the last six weeks, they've given up 169 yards (OAK), 151 (Saints) and 146 (Eagles) on the ground. So is that just because Hicks isn't there?
"We’ve kind of opened up a can of worms, and until you put that fire out, you’re going to continue to get the same type of schemes," defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said.
"So it’s just a matter of being consistent. I thought our guys did a nice job for the most part, except for a few of those. It’s really those scramble yards that get you."
Pagano mentioned that, somewhat ironically, the Rams' offense wasn't the only historically-great unit that got exposed during that Sunday night game last December. It falls on him, he said, to put players in better schemes – especially now that teams can afford to throw more attention at Khalil Mack in Hicks' absence. Much of that falls in the hands of Nick Williams and Nick Kwiatkoski, who both have been unexpected bright spots this season. Pagano praised 'Kwik' using all the normal buzzwords (grit! toughness!) and mentioned how pleased he was with Williams' steady, incremental performance.
"[Williams] is a big talented guy," he said. "He’s learning on the run and he’s getting some more burn like you said. I think he played his best game to date this last one. He’s really disruptive and he did get the one sack. He’s doing a nice job and he’s playing better against the run.”
Based on when he was put on IR, Hicks would be elligble to return for the final three games of the Bears season, starting Dec. 15 in Green Bay. Until then, he's taken on a bit of a de facto assistant coach role.
"He’s a guy who’s in our meeting room," said defensive line coach Jay Rodgers. "He can speak the same language as me. We’ve been around together for 4 seasons now. He has great insight in terms of understand what offensive lines are trying to do to particular defensive setups.
"He’s an alpha personality and people gravitate towards him. When he speaks, he’s not just blowing hot air. What he says, he means it. And that’s valuable to the team."
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