Haloti Ngata wreaked havoc Monday night against the Lions.
The nose tackle was a dominant force in the run game, generated consistent pressure up the middle as a pass rusher and also forced an interception by deflecting a ball at the line of scrimmage. The game against Detroit was arguably Ngata's best of the season, and it was the kind of performance the Ravens expect from the four-time Pro Bowler.
"Haloti certainly is healthier than he has ever been in December," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He's played in a pretty dominating fashion the last number of games, so it's been good to see."
Ngata finished Monday's game with five tackles and a quarterback hit. His batted pass early in the third quarter got picked off by defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson and led to a Ravens' field goal.
The statistical analysis website Pro Football Focus (PFF) gave Ngata the best grade on the team ( 4.9), and it was also the highest mark PFF has ever given Ngata since it started in 2007.
"It means a lot to the defense," Harbaugh said. "Haloti is one of our top guys. He's a guy that we count on to play in a dominating way, and he's done that."
For the last several years, Ngata has been one of the most imposing defensive linemen in the NFL when he's healthy. But staying healthy has been a challenge. He's constantly getting beat up over the course of the season, and has battled shoulder, knee and elbow issues over the last two years.
To keep Ngata relatively fresh, the Ravens have limited his snaps more this season. They are constantly rotating linemen with Ngata, Chris Canty, Arthur Jones, DeAngelo Tyson and Terrence Cody. Ngata has played 67 percent of the defensive snaps, compared to 80 percent last year.
"I assume it has helped him probably to a pretty good extent," Harbaugh said. "We've got a pretty nice, deep group in there at the D-line, and we've been able to use a nice rotation there."
The Ravens built around Ngata in the middle of their defense this season, moving him to nose tackle and surrounding him with players like Canty and Jones. Rather than previous years where Ngata has played more defensive tackle and even defensive end, the Ravens have preferred to anchor Ngata in the middle.
As a nose tackle, Ngata routinely eats up double teams and can also use his athleticism to get past interior offensive linemen to force his way into the backfield.
Ngata showed how valuable he is to the defense Monday night, and the Ravens are hoping for more performances like that as they head into the final two games of the regular season. "He's a heck of a football player – strong, and really good quickness for his size," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "He's a hard guy to block. I've always liked him. I've always thought that he's not only one of the best, but to a degree an underrated player. Not that he's underrated, but I don't think there's many that are better than him at his position."