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Eisenberg: A Healthy Ngata Tops Bye Week Wish List

Posted Oct 27, 2012

The Ravens’ season might come down to their ability to get healthier on defense.

There were a lot of sad sights for the Ravens in their loss to the Texans last Sunday, but watching Haloti Ngata slowly limp off the field in the second half was just about the saddest.

The All-Pro defensive tackle had come into the game with an MCL sprain and a shoulder injury, knowing he probably wouldn’t be at his best. He gutted it out for a while, went to the locker room, came out and tried again, then realized he simply was too hurt to be effective.

Watching such a proud and tough player trudge off the field, capitulating, disgusted, summed up the Ravens’ situation as the blowout unfolded.

A few minutes later, safety Ed Reed stayed down after helping out on a tackle. When he doesn’t get up, it could be any of his many injury hotspots flaring up, his shoulder, his neck, his hip. This time, it was a rib contusion.

Reed returned shortly thereafter, a testament to his determination. Across the huddle from him, linebacker Terrell Suggs was displaying the same quality, having returned from an Achilles tear far sooner than expected.

It was a surprise the Ravens didn’t break out fifes and drums in the locker room after the 43-13 defeat. Aside from Ngata, Reed and Suggs, their defense was missing linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb, both of whom had undergone surgery earlier in the week after suffering major injuries.

It’s a lengthy list when you add it up. No one can dispute that the Ravens defense is battered.

“We have a lot of people banged up. We have a lot of people down,” linebacker Jameel McClain.

It’s never an excuse for losing, but there haven’t been many Ravens teams that needed the bye week more than this one. Sure, being 5-2 and in first place is nice, but there are issues.

The bye week traditionally has two uses, allowing coaches time to reconsider strategy and giving players time to heal. The Ravens are checking off both boxes. The offensive coaches are possibly changing some of their ideas about how to try to move the ball, and the players on the defensive side are trying to heal.

The latter is a grinding process of treatment and rehab that takes place out of the public’s view, so there’s no Internet commentary on it, no real-time grading of how anyone is doing. But it’s crucial stuff. In the end, the Ravens’ season might come down to their ability to get healthier on defense.

That’s where they’re struggling the most, against both the run and pass both at home and away, and if there’s going to be improvement, it would help for Ngata to be Ngata, Reed to be Reed and Suggs to be Suggs.

Even with Webb out for the year and Lewis for the foreseeable future, the Ravens have as many Pro Bowl-caliber guys as anyone on that side, players who can carry you. But will they be healthy enough?

Reed has been playing through gruesome-sounding injuries for years (would you like to have a nerve impingement in your neck?) and still makes plays, so maybe he can overcome bruised ribs with enough time off.

Having seemingly taken on Lewis’ more vocal leadership role along with his myriad other duties, he certainly is needed.

Suggs has returned from an Achilles injury much sooner than expected and is trying to speed-dial himself back into a difference maker. It’s an impossible-sounding task, but if we’ve learned anything from his miracle comeback, it’s best not to discount him.

What about Ngata? He’s truly the centerpiece of the defense, an All-Pro in his prime, anchoring the interior. But a sprained knee ligament hampers his ability to dominate, and those don’t just go away like a cold.

Stopping the run has been the first commandment of Ravens football for more than a decade, and while times obviously are changing, the defense can resemble its old self at least to some degree if Ngata is crushing blockers in the middle rather than trudging off the field, unable to go.

Odd as it sounds, a meaningful bye week for Ngata should be at the top of any Baltimore fan’s wish list.



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