Just one month ago, a case could have been made that one of the sources of the Baltimore Ravens’ problems was Haloti Ngata.
With a salary cap value of $11,500,000, Ngata was by no means living up to his contract to start the year. In fact, saying the Ravens would be better off without Ngata and his huge contract would not have been farfetched – in fact, many were saying exactly that.
That mentality still may persist now, but in recent weeks, Ngata has experienced a sharp incline in his play, which has led to pleasant results for an already stout Baltimore defense.
The difference? The team’s decision to sit him on November 17 against the Chicago Bears. It seems as if Ngata has been playing hurt for the past few years now, and this year, the strength just isn’t there. But getting the much-needed rest appears to have provided Ngata with a late-season bolt of energy, which led to positive results in the last two games.
Particularly in run defense, Ngata looks like a more determined player with noticeably more strength. Sitting out just one game may not seem like much, but for Ngata, it may have been a make-or-break moment for his season.
Let’s take a look at how Ngata has improved.
Against the Cincinnati Bengals – the week before the Bears game – Ngata’s effort and ability in run defense were concerning.
Ngata lines up in the A gap between the left guard and center. With six defenders against six blockers, this is a prime rushing situation for the Bengals that can result in a large gain without impact by Baltimore’s three down linemen.
Off the snap, Ngata is immediately redirected by the center, opening up an easy running lane for the running back.
In the Cincinnati game and games leading up to it, Ngata often got turned sideways in run defense.
On most occasions, his back was turned to the running back as he sped through the line.
End results like this weren’t uncommon.
The past two weeks, however, Ngata has cleaned up his game. What has been the most important part for him in run defense has been his ability to stay in front of the ball carrier.
Having his back turned to the play is a recipe for disaster, and it was likely a result of a lack of strength and movement overall.
Now rested, Ngata appears to be both strong enough to make plays with blockers on him, as well as read and react to a play in enough time to keep it in front of him.
Against the Jets, he did just that.
He is again lined up in the A gap, this time more toward the center.
The left guard takes on Ngata, and at this point, there is an easy running lane opening.
If he plays like he did against Cincinnati, Ngata probably continues to get pushed away from the play instead of making any impact.
Instead, as the running back is redirected back between the left guard and center, Ngata is able to shed his blocker and make the play, stopping the back for no gain.
On this play, Ngata kept his head up the entire time and had the strength to evade his blocker, blowing up the play before it made any progress.
His improved strength was even more noticeable on Thanksgiving night against the Steelers.
He is lined up in the A gap between the center and right guard this time.
The Steelers clearly game planned for Ngata, as on the first play of the game they decided to double-team him on a run play.
Ngata evades both blockers before quarterback Ben Roethlisberger even hands the ball off to running back Le’Veon Bell.
This allows Ngata to put himself in a position to react to the direction of the run play before it starts.
Just as Bell receives the handoff, Ngata commits and grabs him with one arm before ultimately bringing the rookie down in the backfield.
Ngata still has a long way to go to return to his previous form, but he has offered plenty of hope in the past two games.
For a player who has been hurting all season, the extra week off in mid-November seems to have done wonders.