A generous amount of doubt surfaced regarding the effectiveness of the Ravens pass rush due to the continuing absence of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, but no one can blame Haloti Ngata for not doing his part.
This season, the 6-foot-4, 330-pound defensive tackle is tied with inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe for the team lead in sacks with 2½ and is tied for fourth in tackles with 16. Ngata, 28, opened 2012 with two sacks in a Week 1 44-13 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals and split a sack with Ellerbe in Sunday night’s 31-30 win against the New England Patriots.
It’s a rousing start for Ngata, who earned the third Pro Bowl invitation of his career last year when he finished the regular season with five sacks, 65 tackles, three fumble recoveries, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
“I definitely want to get better in stats than I did last year, but I’m here to help the team win, and that’s more important,” said Ngata, whose career best in sacks is 5½ from 2010.
Because of the absences of Suggs (torn right Achilles tendon) and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (free-agent departure to the San Diego Chargers), Ngata said opposing offensive linemen have been able to pay him more attention. The double teams could be frustrating, but Ngata said he recognizes that his teammates could take advantage of their matchups.
“It’s been a little different, but our guys have been stepping up,” he said. “[Rookie outside linebacker Courtney] Upshaw’s been doing a great job and [same with outside linebacker] Paul Kruger and [defensive end] Pernell McPhee. So it opens up more chances for them to make plays. So that’s been good that way.”
With McPhee edging Arthur Jones for the right to replace Cory Redding as the starter and Ma’ake Kemoeatu overtaking Terrence Cody as the starting nose tackle, Ngata is the only holdover from last year. And because of his experience, Ngata said he’s taken it upon himself to be more of a leader in the team’s defensive line.
“I feel like just personally, I’ve got to push our guys more as a defensive front,” he said. “Just pressure quarterbacks more and create a flat wall for our linebackers to know that when they [the opponents] run the ball, they know where we’re going to be. I think I’ve got to have more leadership up front. … “I think my game is what it is. I don’t think I can change much. I’m always trying to improve, but I think I’ve got to be more of a leader.”
The Cleveland Browns, the Ravens’ opponent Thursday night, are one of the few teams that have not surrendered a sack to Ngata, but coach Pat Shurmur said it would be a mistake to overlook Ngata.
“He’s big, he’s physical,” Shurmur said. “He’s obviously a very tough guy to block for any length of time. I think he’s stepped up his game. I think he gets better every time he plays. So that’s the big challenge. He finds a way to get pressure when he’s pass-rushing just because of his sheer power. And he’s got quickness. He’s got deceiving quickness. And of course, we all know how good he is against the run.”