Without Akiem Hicks, Bears’ defense cracks wide open
Aided by an effective run game, Aaron Rodgers made it look easy against the Bears’ ninth-ranked defense — orchestrating three long touchdown drives and throwing four touchdown passes in the Packers’ 41-25 victory.
The Bears’ defense is one of the few in the NFL that can bravely look forward to the daunting challenge of facing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. But without Akiem Hicks? Not so much.
The combination of Aaron Rodgers in an MVP groove and Hicks’ absence because of a hamstring injury had a dam-breaking affect, as the defensive meltdown paved the way for a 41-25 loss to the Packers on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
Hicks’ injury against the Vikings on Nov. 16 at Soldier Field flew under the radar during the bye week. Perhaps it was assumed that the gritty, gutty Hicks would tough it out and play.
As it turned out, that wasn’t the case, as Hicks was inactive Sunday night. And, with nose tackle Eddie Goldman already out all season because of concerns about the coronavirus, Hicks’ absence showed from the start.
Rodgers, orchestrating coach Matt LaFleur’s offense like a maestro, led the Packers to touchdowns on their first three drives as Green Bay took a 20-3 lead late in the second quarter.
The length of the drives told the story of total domination — 75 yards on 14 plays; 75 yards on nine plays; and 80 yards on 13 plays. And the Packers’ balance in gaining 393 total yards was an indication of how well LaFleur was able to keep the Bears on their heels. They rushed for 182 yards and passed for 211.
“Obviously, you guys know and we know what type of player that Akiem is and where he’s at and what he’s been for this defense,” coach Matt Nagy said. “But at the same time, it gives an opportunity for other guys to step up. That’s their job as players. That’s our job as coaches, to coach them as best we can and then have them execute it.
“I just feel like you really could feel the middle of our defense … which is gonna affect some of the linebacker play because they’re going to get up to the second level, and they hit a couple of big plays on us. Overall, though, when you’re going against Aaron Rodgers, you gotta be able to stop the run and then not give him big plays.”
The Bears lead the NFL in third-down conversions, but with Rodgers on one side and Hicks not on the other, it was no contest — the Packers converted 5 of 6 (83%) of their third-down situations in the first half, including Rodgers’ 12-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams on third-and-10 that gave the Packers a 6-0 lead.
The Packers went right after the Bears’ softened middle on the opening drive, with Aaron Jones gaining 14 yards up the middle to midfield and Jones’ nine-yard gain past backup defensive linemen John Jenkins and Mario Edwards Jr. to the 25.
On third-and-one from the Bears 16, running back Jamaal Williams went up the middle for four yards and an easy conversion. Brent Urban stopped Jones for no gain, and Rodgers threw incomplete when Adams slipped. But just when it looked like the Bears might hold the Packers to a field goal, Rodgers had all day to throw against three-man pressure and, of course, found the open man, even with eight defenders in coverage, connecting with Adams for the 12-yard touchdown.
“That’s probably one of the most disappointing parts is just how that kind of went for most of the game,” Nagy said. “Because against a quarterback like that, when you run the ball almost 40 times (39), they’re getting some yards there on the run. And you kind of felt that early on. That’s where our team has been relying on our defense, and they’re not always going to play perfect. But today was one of those ones … that third-and-goal he found Adams for a touchdown …
“I know our guys are frustrated about that on defense and are not happy about it.”