Ravens 2014 Preview: Ngata Primed for Bounce Back SeasonPosted on September 03, 2014 by Nick Meriweather
It’s no secret that I love Etuini Haloti Ngata. For the past eight years, the 6’4” 340 lb defensive behemoth has wreaked havoc on offensive lines around the NFL. He devours double teams, pummels quarterbacks, bats passes, and forces fumbles. As a former state champion rugby player with the speed of a skill position and the size of an interior lineman, Ngata is quietly redefining old stereotypes about the “big guys up front.”
That being said, Ngata’s play – and many would say popularity – have declined noticeably over the past three years. After a breakout 2011 season in which the mighty Tongan notched sixty-four tackles and five sacks, his numbers dwindled to fifty-two tackles and only 1.5 sacks last season. For most interior lineman this would be an impressive feat. For a perennial Pro Bowler and $61 million dollar salary cap investment, however, Ngata needs to do more to reassert himself in the eyes of fans and coaches.
Ngata’s dilemma is largely one of expectations. He has made a career surrounded by some of the most vaunted defensive players of this generation. Since his arrival in 2006, the Ravens’ defensive line has allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns (63) and third fewest rushing yards (93.1) in the league (www.baltimoreravens.com). He has earned five Pro Bowl nods and an impressive 496 career tackles, leading us to expect more and more every year. He is also cursed to live in the time of incredibly talented D-linemen like J.J. Watt, Ndamukong Suh, and Geno Atkins. These players invite unfair comparisons that make it easy to dismiss him as an aging player. However, Ngata’s ceiling – or at least our expectations of it– remains limitless.
Another seemingly “good” problem for Ngata is his versatility. A lack of help since the departures of stalwarts like Kelly Gregg and Art Jones has forced Ngata to carry the load of lesser players like Terrence Cody. Despite his dominance as a pass-rushing 3-4 end, Dean Pees has been eager to use Haloti’s size and strength to eat up double teams at nose tackle. While this has led to nice highlight reels for flashier pass-rushers, Ngata’s relegation to lowly interior stop-gap has taken a heavy toll on his body. Lest we forget, the player who brought chaos into opposing QB pockets a year earlier watched the Super Bowl ticker tape humbly from the sidelines after a knee injury forced him out of the game.
However, 2014 looks to be the year of Haloti’s vindication. He appears stronger, faster, healthier, and more motivated than ever before. With the emergence of a young, freakishly strong nose tackle named Brandon Williams, Haloti can finally return to dominant form at his natural position. This summer, we’ve seen Ngata hoist a 150 lb dumbbell with one arm while raising his entire body from the ground. He also dunked a basketball from a standstill. At age 30, he is still (in my controversial opinion), the most talented and all-around athletic player on the roster.
Many would say this is a make-or-break year for Haloti Ngata. As his salary cap hit will make a huge dent next season, this may be Ngata’s last chance to make a statement about his impact and legacy with the Ravens. Ngata has been on the cusp of greatness his entire career, brushing close to a DPOY in 2011. Now, he can either continue a slow downward trend and face the salary cap guillotine like so many aging players before him, or he can ascend the throne of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in Baltimore legend. If I know Haloti, he will take the road less travelled