Limping to the mid-way point of the NFL season, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes goes from a jingle players sing to their children, to a refrain sung to team doctors when they ask, “what hurts?”
Haloti Ngata is amongst those leading the choir as he has been battered and bruised the past few weeks. In particular, Ngata has a shoulder injury and during the win over the Dallas Cowboys, Ngata sprained the MCL in his right knee.
Ngata’s ability to play through pain is admirable – especially given the injuries to the Ravens defense – but at a certain point, his contributions have to be evaluated.
In the Ravens 25-15 victory on Sunday over the Cleveland Browns, Ngata was held without a tackle. He played stiff, slow, and was hardly a threat to the Browns offense. The previous week against the Texans, he was held to only two tackles.
When healthy, Ngata is a frequent candidate to draw the attention of multiple players; in Cleveland, that wasn’t the case. Out of his 53 snaps on Sunday, Ngata only drew a double team 15 times (28%).
As the Ravens face their most crucial test on their schedule between Weeks 11-13, as they play the Steelers twice, Ngata’s injuries and lack of time to heal could become costly.
John Harbaugh and the Ravens training staff are evaluating Ngata on a frequent basis. When asked how they’ll manage Ngata, Harbaugh replied, “day-by-day and week-by-week.”
Given that the Ravens didn’t take advantage of an extended time off for Ngata following the bye, it seems as if they’re planning on keeping him activated and starting. “We need to win every game,” said Harbaugh.
The Ravens aren’t expected to go undefeated for the rest of the season but they may find themselves on the losing end more often than not if Ngata is injured and continues playing like he is now through that latter part of the season.
No disrespect to the Browns or Raiders but neither of those teams pose as big of a threat as the Pittsburgh Steelers do during Weeks 11 and 13. Sandwiching a cross-country trip to San Diego to face the Chargers doesn’t make the task any easier.
All of these are reasons having Ngata healthier than he is now come Week 11 is crucial, but the Ravens may have missed their opportunity.
While it may have sent a “we’re quitting’ message, pulling Ngata from the game at halftime with the team trailing 29-3 to the Houston Texans would have been a best-case scenario for Ngata. Had he not returned until Week 11’s game against the Steelers, Ngata would have had almost four weeks to recover and 10 fewer quarters of football on his worn down body.
The Ravens have already missed the boat on giving Ngata a significant amount of time off but how much he plays is and always has been up to the coaches and training staff.
One thing that was evident is that Ngata isn’t healthy and he isn’t effective. If he’ll continue to produce limited results as he did against the Texans and Browns, the team may be better suited to give him time off this Sunday as the Ravens host the Raiders.
Even when Ngata is active, the Ravens don’t have much success rushing the quarterback, and with Raiders running back Darren McFadden sidelined with a high-ankle sprain, the Raiders may not pose much of a threat to the Ravens defensive line.
Deactivating Ngata on Sunday will allow his body some limited time to heal. After reviewing the game film, you have to wonder if the Ravens would do things differently knowing how limited of a contribution Ngata would make against the Browns.
Regardless, there are people far more qualified, aware, and smarter making these decisions, so the fan base will just have to accept them – no matter how good of a Monday morning quarterback, or doctor, they may be.