This is a difficult spot for the Ravens as they clearly view a banged-up Ngata as better than anything else they have to offer along the defensive line, but it might be worth it to sacrifice his presence in the lineup for a couple weeks if it improved the chances of him holding up late in the season. Of course, the training staff is far better equipped than fans or media to make these decisions, so it’s quite possible a week or two of rest won’t really amount to much improvement and Ngata will simply need to find a way to push through the nagging injuries for the rest of the season.
Regardless of the route they choose, it’s difficult to imagine a struggling defense making any tangible improvement without Ngata becoming more of a factor than he’s been over the last two games.
> Joe Flacco’s performance in Cleveland mirrored the rest of the offense as he started out on fire, struggled in the second and third quarters, and finished on a high note by orchestrating the drive for the go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
The numbers weren’t overly impressive as he finished the day 15-for-24 for 153 yards and a touchdown, but the fifth-year quarterback committed no turnovers, which was a welcome change from his previous three road games in which he tossed four interceptions and had completed only 50 percent of his attempts. Still, doubts remain over Flacco’s ability to play well on the road and the numbers don’t lie this season as he’s posted a 62.7 quarterback rating in four contests away from M&T Bank Stadium.
The spotlight will be white-hot in two weeks when the Ravens take on the Steelers at Heinz Field in a Sunday night game, and he’ll be expected to replicate what he’s done in Pittsburgh in regular-season games over the last two years.
Last year, Flacco played brilliantly in Pittsburgh as he threw for 300 yards and the game-winning 26-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith with eight seconds remaining to cap off a masterful 12-play, 92-yard drive and complete a season sweep of the Steelers. In 2010, the quarterback passed for 256 yards and rebounded from Pittsburgh’s late goal-line stand to throw a 18-yard touchdown to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 32 seconds left to earn a 17-14 victory and his first victory at Heinz Field.
The last-second theatrics aren’t a requirement, but the quarterback can begin making the first-half road struggles a distant memory by putting together a strong performance to earn another win at Heinz Field. It would also convince more fans that Flacco’s road struggles in the first half were more of a slump than a disturbing trend spiraling out of control.
However, a poor performance in Week 11 would simply lend more credence to the naysayers doubting his abilities and the criticism will be heavier than it’s ever been on the quarterback over his five-year tenure with the Ravens.