OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With a slew of injuries hampering a depleted Ravens defensive line, All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has tried to play through two ailments of his own over the last month of the season.
Listed as questionable on the final injury report in the Ravens’ last two games against the Texans and Browns, the seventh-year defensive lineman has played with knee and shoulder injuries, but his performance hasn’t lived up to his usual standards as one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Though stat sheets rarely tell the story in describing the effectiveness of a defensive tackle, Ngata has just one tackle over his last two games as he’s played in a reduced number of snaps.
Ngata registered one tackle in the 43-13 loss to Houston two weeks ago as he played 48 of the Ravens’ 80 defensive snaps. In Cleveland on Sunday, the 28-year old increased his workload to 53 of 70 possible defensive reps, but he failed to record a tackle and appeared unable to control and beat blockers at the line of scrimmage in the way he typically does.
“I thought he played solidly,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s not 100 percent — he’s got the shoulder and the knee a little bit — but he’s fighting through it. He’s playing well.”
Harbaugh remained noncommittal in how the Ravens will handle his practice work as many are beginning to suggest the possibility of sitting down the Pro Bowl defensive tackle in hopes of improved health for the final stretch of the regular season. It doesn’t help that the Baltimore defensive line has struggled to find any play-makers to complement Ngata as younger players such as Terrence Cody, Pernell McPhee, and Arthur Jones have failed to step up.
For now, the Ravens are likely to continue limiting his practice time, but they desperately need Ngata to regain the dominant form not seen since early last year when he was a Defensive Player of the Year candidate prior to sustaining a thigh injury that hampered him in the second half of the season.
“I think you take that day by day and week by week,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see. We need to win every game. Every game the division championship’s on the line.”
The only notable injuries suffered in Sunday’s game came along the offensive line as right guard Marshal Yanda tweaked his knee and ankle and was replaced by backup Jah Reid for five offensive plays while he received treatment. Right guard Bobbie Williams also suffered a mild ankle sprain, so the Ravens will closely monitor their practice time leading into this Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders.
Yanda would figure to be ready to play, but it will be interesting to see how Williams responds after suffering a fractured ankle last season in his final weeks with the Cincinnati Bengals.
“[Yanda’s] moving around. The MRIs were all positive, nothing there,” Harbaugh said. “Bobbie Williams had an ankle — nothing on the MRI — sprain, so we’ll see. We’ll probably give him some rest during the week sometime and try to get him to Sunday. Those were the only two things that were really anything that were significant injury-wise.”
Should either player be deemed unfit to play, Reid would likely receive the first opportunity in the starting lineup after he was active for the first time all season against the Browns. He took nine offensive snaps, with five coming at left guard and the others as a blocking tight end in run-play situations.
“Jah played well,” Harbaugh said. “He played 10 or 15 snaps at different positions in there, and he played well and did a nice job. First time of really taking any kind of extended time out there and he wasn’t overwhelmed at all. That’s kind of what you look for in a young guy.”
Pees goes upstairs