One of the biggest mysteries for the Baltimore Ravens this year has been the play of defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
While Ngata doesn’t play one of the sport’s sexiest positions, he was once regarded as one of, if not the best, defensive player in the NFL just a few years ago. For some reason, he has left that pinnacle and has somewhat been relegated to an above average, yet not considered a great player anymore. He has given observers and his critics good reason though.
Thus far in 2013, the 29-year-old, eight-year veteran has 25 tackles and one-and-a-half sacks at the midway point of Baltimore’s 16-game season. It’s not so much that his numbers aren’t staggering, it’s the overall impact of his play this year and how it hasn’t been game-changing.
One of the main criticisms of the Ravens’ defense thus far in 2013 has been that they can’t keep the offense off of the field. Bending but not breaking is good at times, but it comes to a point where it limits the Baltimore offense in the amount of opportunities to score. Three-and-outs haven’t been a mainstay of this Baltimore defense thus far, and it’s largely due to the fact that this defense doesn’t show up big during big moments, especially late in games. Ngata is a guy the Ravens look to to try and generate a push up front and to be the anchor and stalwart needed in order to get the defense off the field quickly, but he hasn’t been able to be that guy all year.
If you can remember last season, you can remember this Ravens front seven being average at best; defensively, they would get out-muscled on a regular basis, and it was largely due to Ngata constantly battling injuries all over his body, but mostly his knees. This year, you have to wonder if he is still playing through similar injuries, but it doesn’t excuse anything for him. He’s a football player and plays in one of the toughest positions in the NFL. He’s going to be banged up.
For Ngata, his job is to demand double teams, win hand-fights, wreak havoc in the backfield on run plays, and occasionally chase down quarterbacks if defensive ends Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil can’t do so themselves. Ngata has mostly only taken care of the hand-fighting task for the most part, as he is virtually is becoming more of a pedestrian player as opposed to a game-breaker. He has been blocked single-handedly and doesn’t require double teams as often, but in his defense, Chris Canty and some of his other defensive lineman haven’t provided the best support either.
Ngata has to be the anchor up front, and while he hasn’t been terrible, he clearly isn’t the same player. Given Baltimore’s attached at the hip to his current five-year deal worth up to $61 million, you would have to wonder if they won’t try to restructure this deal, as he doesn’t play a prime position. Perhaps they may cut ties with him in the future if he is not willing to renegotiate, as the Ravens clearly have some rebuilding to do throughout the entire roster. Regardless, I don’t want to see Ngata get more sacks as much as I’d rather see him just open up more holes in the offense for his teammates to have success defensively.