It has been another banner season for Ravens DT Haloti Ngata.
Ngata, 27, earned Pro Bowl honors for the third time as one of the anchors of an annually stingy defense. He notched 64 tackles, a career high, and added five sacks. The Ravens, who allowed the third-fewest yards in the league, captured their first division title — and set up their first home playoff game — since 2006, earning a week of rest before a divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium on Jan. 15.
PFW caught up with Ngata during the bye week to get his thoughts on a number of topics, including how he's improved this season — and why he misses playing full-contact rugby:
PFW: What's the biggest benefit to having the bye?
Ngata: I think, first and foremost, just probably the guys getting healthy. Whoever's been hurt being able to get that extra week is, I think, huge. Guys that are playing hurt, they can actually get some of the little bumps and bruises kind of healed up, too. I think that's one of the biggest things. But then, it's also, you get some time to kind of watch some football and see what your competition is and get ready against whoever you're going to be playing against.
PFW: How do you watch a game on TV? Do you watch for pleasure? Do you take notes?
Ngata: Most of the times, I'll probably just be watching offenses. I wouldn't be seeing what defenses are doing or anything. I'll be kind of looking at what offenses are doing, look at their personnel, see what they're good at. That's usually how I watch. But then I usually just turn back and forth. I don't really like to stay on a football game.
PFW: When I interviewed you last season, you said, "I don't want to be one of those guys that just kind of gets good at one thing and just stays there." Where have you improved the most this season?
Ngata: I'd probably say pass rushing, really, just because I've been able to get to the quarterback more this year. And hopefully I can continue to get better and better, especially in this playoff run, and continue to keep on getting better. I don't really, like I said earlier, want to stay at this level of being a pass rusher or a run stopper, and I just want to continue to keep on getting better.
PFW: What drives you to keep improving?
Ngata: I think it's really just competition, being a competitor really. If I didn't really like to compete, I wouldn't want to keep on getting better. Guys around the league are getting better and better. You've got younger guys. A lot of our younger guys are doing really well now. You've got to compete with those guys; you have to compete with guys around the league. I think that's one of the reasons why I think I keep on going just because I want to keep on competing. A lot of the veterans around the league, they're huge competitors, with (Ravens MLB) Ray Lewis being one of those guys that knows he can do it and continues to compete, like a lot of guys around the league doing that. I think as long as we have that in our system, we're going to just try to keep on playing.
PFW: Describe the impact Lewis has on the defense.
Ngata: It's not only our defense, it's our whole team. Having him out there, his leadership, his passion. It just gets everyone going. Without him, it just wouldn't be the Raven defense. I don't know, you guys can see it in the media. … He's a huge part of our team, and we'd probably lose a lot of passion without him on our team.
His leadership, his examples with how to take care of your body, how to look at things; whatever's happening with you, he's there with you with football, with life. It's just great to have someone like that that's been through a lot of things in his life and is able to share things with people. It's great to have someone like that, especially someone that can share his life with us and kind of help the team that way by what he's been through.
PFW: It seems like there's been a seamless transition between defensive coordinators with Chuck Pagano replacing Greg Mattison, who took the same job at Michigan. What's been the key?
Ngata: I think it's whatever our coordinators call, we should be able to run it, and nobody should make a play on us. I think we've always played like that. Our coordinator can call whatever he wants; we should be able to make a play on whatever play comes at us. I think that's us being Ravens defensive players. We just go out and hunt, really. We don't try to think too much. We just go out and react and play and try and hit you in the mouth. That's what we've been doing ever since I've been here.
PFW: What does it mean to make the Pro Bowl for a third time?
Ngata: It's big to me. I think it always will be. I'm so appreciative of it. Just to think of what your peers think of you around the league, coaches and fans, it's great. It's like getting your first Pro Bowl again. It's always definitely an honor and privilege. It's so cool. I was excited about it. Hopefully, this year I don't get to play in it, though.
PFW: Of course — the Pro Bowl falls the week before the Super Bowl, and players on those teams don't play in the Pro Bowl. Have you ever dreamed of winning a Super Bowl?
Ngata: I've always had dreams like that, and hopefully that dream comes true some time in the near future.
PFW: How does the dream go? Do you make a fourth-down stop to win the game or something like that?
Ngata: No, I've always just kind of dreamed of us as a team just winning it. I've never pictured myself really making a big play or anything, but just mostly us getting there as a team and winning it as a team. The biggest thing probably to me is if we got there together and finished it off. It's always been something like that.
PFW: You played rugby in high school. Do you still play?
Ngata: No, I don't. I wish I could, but no, I don't. I play a lot of touch rugby, non-tackle, just touch. It's kind of like touch football, kind of the same thing.
PFW: What do you miss about the game?
Ngata: It's just so fun, you know? Especially for a big guy like myself. You just get to run the ball, you know? You test your abilities that way, because you can't block in rugby. It's always usually a lot of one-on-one contests. I can see if I can do a little juke move — as a big guy, it's kind of not really a juke move, it's a wiggle more (laughs) — but that was just fun, being able to run the ball and do some of the stuff that a lot of the skill guys do.