By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun
7:54 PM EST, December 24, 2013
Five games ago, Ravens veteran nose tackle Haloti Ngata was dealing with a sprained right knee troublesome enough that it forced him to miss a game.
Since being sidelined for that Nov. 17 overtime loss to the Chicago Bears, the four-time Pro Bowl selection has gradually gotten healthier and begun to recapture his old, disruptive form.
Ngata has 11 tackles and two pass deflections over the past two games.
Consider him less than satisfied, though, heading into a pivotal regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
“It’s definitely gotten a little better,” Ngata said. “I think I can do more. I definitely want to do better pass rushing and be more of a disruption there, but it’s definitely better than it has been earlier in the season.”
Since shifting to nose guard, Ngata has had much more of a muted impact as an interior pass rusher.
Ngata has just 1.5 sacks while dealing with more double-team blocking attention than he faced in the past. Ngata recorded at least five sacks each of the previous three seasons lining up at defensive tackle in the Ravens' 3-4 defense. This season, he has 46 tackles for the second-lowest total of his career since finishing with 41 tackles during the 2009 season.
Ngata proclaimed that he’s not a reluctant nose tackle, though.
“Wherever they want me, wherever they need me,” Ngata said. “We’ve got so many playmakers, so they can just put me wherever they want. Arthur [Jones] has been doing great at the three-technique, so I’m fine being at the nose. It’s just wherever they need me.”
The Ravens have registered 40 sacks as a defense, but have just three sacks combined over the past four games.
“A lot of offenses have been doing a better job getting rid of the ball faster against us,” Ngata said. “They’ve seen how fast we can disrupt that pocket for the quarterback, and they’ve been getting the ball off. We’ve got to do a better job at trying to get there. If we’re not getting there, then we need to get our hands up and bat balls down.”
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has completed 62.2 percent of his throws for 4,015 yards, 31 touchdowns and 16 interceptions for a 91.0 passer rating.
He’s only been sacked 29 times, and the Ravens will need to create pressure against him to slow down an offense headlined by star wide receiver A.J. Green. Green has caught 94 passes for 1,364 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“It’s huge, they have weapons all over the field,” Ngata said. "Their offensive line has been playing really great this year. We’ve just got to put pressure on Andy Dalton and try to make sure that he doesn’t find open receivers or make correct checks. We’ll just try to create pressure on him and try to make tough decisions.”
Focusing on Dalton and the Bengals’ 10th-ranked offense, the Ravens say they’ve moved beyond an embarrassing 41-7 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday that represents the most lopsided defeat in the John Harbaugh era.
“When you have a bad game like that, it’s not that hard,” Ngata said. “You’ve just got to move on and focus on the next game. If you think about it too much, it’s going to ruin the next game for you.”
Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict is known for his feisty nature and has a history of skirmishes with the Ravens during his first two NFL seasons.
Burfict has been penalized a dozen times this season, including seven for unnecessary roughness. He leads the Bengals with 188 tackles and plays the game with an edge that the Ravens are cognizant of heading into Sunday.
“We respect him,” tight end Ed Dickson said. “He’s got a lot of tackles for a reason. He flies around. He’s got a passion for the game. He might get a little hot-headed at times, but that’s him.
“I’ve played against him a little bit and I respect his game. I’ve got no time to talk to him like that. I’m going to let my game speak for itself.”
Burfict went undrafted out of Arizona State last season following a terrible NFL scouting combine where he ran the slowest 40-yard dash time of any linebacker, while also drawing criticism for a lack of discipline and propensity for penalties in college.
“I can’t speak to anything Vontaze did at Arizona State, which I guess gave him such a big reputation,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said during a conference call. “I only know what he’s done here, which has been just being a really good linebacker and one of the best linebackers I’ve ever coached. So, that’s saying a mouthful.”
Flacco expressed surprise at being named the Media Good Guy for his cooperation with reporters. “I heard a rumor that was being talked about,” he said. “That’s pretty funny. I never would’ve thought I’d be in the running for that because I don’t give you guys really anything, I don’t feel like. Definitely pretty cool.” … Kicker Justin Tucker said teammates have stood behind him following his missed 37-yarder Sunday that ended a streak of 33 field goals in a row. “To have all the support of the guys in the locker room,” Tucker said, “it's a cool deal.”