Akiem Hicks spent the week putting some “deep thought” into the matter.
That’s required when officials throw their yellow flags at you four times in one game, as they did to Hicks on Monday night in the Bears' 24-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Hicks has been the fierce leader of a strong Bears defense this season with 3 1/4 u00bd sacks, 11 quarterback hits and seven tackles for a loss. He also leads the league with seven penalties, not including two flags that were declined Monday.
So how does he balance maintaining the type of play that strikes fear into opponents with trying to fix some of the issues for which he has been penalized?
“My first instinct is to say, ‘Whatever, this is just a one-off. I’m just going out there to play football. It is what it is. I’m just going to have to be better in some form or fashion the coming weeks,’ ” Hicks said. “But you can’t put your team in that situation. It’s as simple as that. You’ve got to figure out a way to not have your teammates getting backed up 15 yards when we’re already fighting out tough situations. It just doesn’t work. So fix it, Akiem.”
Some are more in need of fixing than others.
The most comical flag Monday night — though probably not especially funny to the Bears because the Rams scored shortly thereafter — came in the third quarter.
Rams running back Malcolm Brown burst 7 yards toward the end zone, and when a group of players wrapped him up, officials allowed the scrum to travel another 5 yards to the 1-yard line before calling the play dead.
As the group inched toward the goal line, Hicks jumped on top of the pile to put a stop to the madness. The unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty cost the Bears only a half-yard because the ball already was at the 1, and Brown scored on the next play.
“Blow the whistle,” Hicks said when asked what he thought of the penalty.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano had a little more to say.
“I don’t know why, but they don’t blow it dead,” Pagano said. “The forward progress is done, but they don’t. So they’re pushing. He’s like a kid in Pop Warner, jumping on a pile, having fun. … The guy throws a flag like he just hit a sliding quarterback in the head. So I better stop there.”
But Pagano saw fixes for Hicks' other penalties, including the illegal use of hands call that was declined in the first quarter and was unclear on the broadcast. Hicks noted the center he was playing against was significantly shorter than him and said sometimes on such plays it can be difficult to adjust if he already is locked in. But he and Pagano said adjustments had to be made.
“I want our guys — Akiem, along with everybody else — to play hard, play fast, play physical and take it right to the line,” Pagano said. “But you can’t cross the line. So you look at him: You’re bull-rushing a guy, pushing a guy, long-arming a guy — and if you get your hand up in the face you’ve got to pull it off. You can’t leave it there prolonged.”
Pagano said they also talked through the roughing-the-passer call on Hicks when he took down Jared Goff — the second such penalty on him this season — saying he has to slide to the side when taking down a quarterback so he can be sure to keep his weight off him.
Hicks' career high for penalties in his previous eight years was seven over 16 games in 2016, according to Pro Football Reference. He now has seven in seven games, topping Bears cornerbacks Kyle Fuller (six) and Jaylon Johnson (four). Hicks takes the onslaught this year seriously and will work to change where he can — without giving up too much of his edge.
“I would say it is an issue, right, because you never want to put your team in bad situations,” Hicks said. “You don’t want to hurt your team. I could go out there and get tackles for a loss and two sacks, and those four penalties still sit with me at the end of the day because I’m taking away as much as I’m giving to my team. For me, it means a lot to be a disciplined player. It means a lot for me to be a professional. It means a lot for me to not put my team in bad situations. It is a big deal, but I’m sure it’s something I can adjust to.”
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