Ravens defense aiming to reverse trend of late-game struggles

November 07, 2013 | Luke Jones

The performance of Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has been a hot-button topic ever since he signed to a five-year, $61 million contract early in the 2011 season as nagging injuries and questions about his weight and conditioning have led to a perceived drop in play over the last three years.

After being moved to nose tackle this season, Ngata was strong early but hasn’t made as big of an impact over the last six weeks as he’s dealt with hip and elbow ailments. It’s difficult to quantify his impact playing inside as he’s often asked to take on double-teams to free up linebackers to make tackles, but Ngata is ninth on the team with 26 tackles and has graded out as the Ravens’ fifth-best defensive player, according to Pro Football Focus.

“I feel like I can do more,” Ngata said. “Just because we’re losing, I think a lot of guys start looking at themselves [asking], ‘What can I do?’ But that can also be a trap, because you don’t want to do too much to where you’re doing two jobs instead of trying to do your own job. I guess for me, I just try to be more dominant in my position instead of trying to do too much.”

Ngata carries an $11.5 million cap number this season and $16 million cap hits in the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Pistol formation rationale

Desperate to pump life into an anemic running game, the Ravens debuted the pistol formation against the Browns for a handful of plays.

Showing the formation that features quarterback Joe Flacco in an abbreviated shotgun position with a running back lined up behind him, the Ravens ran five plays from the pistol — all of them runs by Ray Rice — for just five yards. The look allows for better angles for the running game compared to a conventional shotgun look — which the Ravens have used extensively in their last two games — in which the running back lines up on either side of the quarterback.

The pistol formation has become popular in the NFL over the last couple seasons as offenses with mobile quarterbacks have run the read-option from it.

“There are a lot of different [reasons to use the pistol], particularly when you’ve been throwing the ball as much as we have,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “That, particularly, gives us a chance to run the ball from our deep-playing position and not necessarily from our offset position. That’s probably the biggest benefit, and you can do a number of different things out of it. You don’t have to run it, but you can throw it as well. It just gives us an opportunity to improve our angles.”