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Healthy Haloti Ngata having his best season in recent years

A healthy Haloti Ngata is always a good sign for the Ravens.
A healthy Haloti Ngata is always a good sign for the Ravens. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

The good news this time of year is that there is no bad news about Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

Headed into the final six games of the season Ngata has remained injury free and is having his best season in recent years.

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That's not to say that Ngata wasn't playing well, but he has taken his game back to a Pro Bowl level, possibly, because the Ravens are no longer moving him along the line of scrimmage.

Plus, there are no knee, back or ankle injuries to report. A healthy Ngata is a major key for the Ravens if they are going to make a serious playoff run.

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"I think that's probably part of it," said Ravens defensive coordindator Dean Pees, referring to Ngata being at full strength. "But the other part of it is that in past years, we've also had to play him at nose, play him at three-technique and play him at five-technique, and we really haven't moved him this year. [It] makes a whole lot of difference up front there.

"When you take a guy, move him out to five [technique] one week and then move him back in there inside the next week, it's hard. So, I really think part of [Ngata's success] is because we've had the ability to leave guys in the same position and not move them all over. Haloti is having a really standout year."

Getting pressure up the middle had been a problem for the Ravens during the past couple of seasons, but less of one this year. If he isn't getting pressure, Ngata has knocked down seven passes and intercepted two. He has also forced two fumbles.

Ngata has 25 tackles and is a big reason the Ravens have the No. 6 run defense in the NFL. Just as important, he has been a leader helping some of the younger players like defensive linemen Lawrence Guy and Brandon Williams, and even cornerback Anthony Levine.

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Limiting big plays

During the break, maybe Pees can find a way to cut down on the big plays allowed. The Ravens have given up 40 plays of 20 yards or longer this season.

With a secondary that has struggled, the Ravens might have problems with New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees on Nov. 24, Baltimore's first game after the bye.

The Ravens offense also needs to convert on third downs to keep the ball away from Brees. They have converted on just 51 of 128 third-down opportunities.

"It's not magic. There's no secret," Pees said of the big plays. "People are putting up big numbers because they're putting up big plays. Make a team drive the distance on you, and maybe they'll make a mistake. Even if sometimes what happens is you get a penalty, and all of a sudden now it's second-and-15. Well, that's a whole different game. Let them make the mistakes. Make them drive the field on you."

Tell it like it is

I've always liked Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, even when he tried to trip Ravens returner Jacoby Jones running down the left sideline last year.

I liked him even more when he said safety Mike Mitchell's hurdling of New York's offensive line when the Jets were in victory formation was "unprofessional."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh should have said the same thing of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs's cheap shot of Pittsburgh running back LeGarrette Blount two weeks ago.

He's benched

The Ravens want to say that safety Matt Elam is still a starter despite playing just 15 snaps against Tennessee Sunday.

Oh right, and there really is such a thing as the Easter Bunny.

Elam had not been playing well and might have more missed tackles this season than any player on the roster. If the Ravens don't want to call it a benching, I'll call it a well-earned demotion.

This shouldn't be happening to a former first-round pick in his second year.

Look out for the Browns

It really hurts me to write this (so much agony, so much pain), but Cleveland might be the best team in the AFC North.

The Browns have good balance on offense and are sound defensively except for the 134.2 rushing yards they allow per game. Quarterback Brian Hoyer is a slow starter, but usually gets better during the course of every game.

When the Ravens play the Browns here in the season finale on Dec. 28, that game might have serious playoff ramifications. But the big game for the Ravens will be three weeks earlier when they travel to Miami.

That's when we'll find out where this team is headed.

Will Mosley hit a wall?

Ravens rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley has been excellent on the field, but you have to wonder when he is going to hit the proverbial rookie wall.

Few rookies find ways around it. The final year in college football to the NFL is pretty strenuous. Prospects prepare for the season and then play the regular season and possibly a bowl game and maybe a college all-star game.

They don't get time off because they have to prepare for the NFL rookie combine and once drafted they participate in several minicamps. Then it's off to training camp and the 16-game regular season, which is more games than any of them have ever played in a full season.

But it's not just the physical strain, but the mental part as well. In college, the athletes go to class. As far as structure and organization, playing in the NFL is like a 9-to-5 job.

Keeping an eye on Mosley will be as interesting as watching veteran players like Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith, Steve Smith and Chris Canty at the end of the season to see how much they have left.

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