On Sunday, the Chicago Bears received some good news, as Akiem Hicks returned to practice for the first time since Week Five. Hicks was placed on injured reserve (IR) following the team’s loss in London, where he dislocated his elbow. Having been sidelined for the last seven games, his absence has truly shown why he is the Bears’ most important player on defense.

Hicks is most valuable to the Bears pass rush for a multiple of reasons. He is one of the league’s most versatile defensive lineman as he can line up at both as an end or tackle in the 3-4 defense. Since joining the Bears in 2016, Hicks has registered 24 sacks in 52 games. 2018 was his best season as he was named to the Pro-Bowl with 7.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.

The other major reason why Hicks is important to the Bears defensive pass-rush is his ability to help control the line with absorbing blockers. Chicago’s defensive end has been a vital space-eater drawing opposing offensive linemen’s blocking assignment. It is because of this that other Bears defenders have been able to get to the quarterback more frequently, especially All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack

Since being traded to the Bears before the start of the 2018 season, Mack has recorded 19 sacks and 11 forced fumbles in 26 games. He has benefited the most from the assistance of Hicks and has been severely limited with his absence. In the four games this season before hicks’ injury, Mack had 4.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. In the seven games since the injury, Mack has just 2 sacks and 1 forced fumble. The reason why Chicago’s All-Pro linebacker has struggled because he has faced double and triple-teams from opposing offensive linemen

Hicks has been the Bears’ second-best pass rusher as other pass rushers including linebacker Leonard Floyd has struggled to make a consistent impact. Floyd was expected to be the team’s second-best pass rusher when Mack was acquired and has just 7 sacks total in the past two seasons. Hicks was the only other Bear to record more than six sacks in 2018.

If Chicago gets back their second-best pass rusher, the number of hurries they are able to produce will increase, which could lead to opposing quarterbacks making poor decisions. In the team’s first four games, the defense has forced 4 interceptions, while in the seven games following Hicks’ injury they have just 4.

Even though Chicago’s Pro-Bowl defensive end returned to practice, he will not be eligible to play until December 15th against the Packers. With the team still clinging to slim playoff hopes, their chance of winning their final three games improves with the return of Hicks. The defense has been good this season but hasn’t been as great as it was in 2018, which could be in part to the most significant injury this season — Hicks.