Gotta Block Ngata

The Steelers are working to keep their quarterback healthy and their Super Bowl chances alive. That means blocking this man: Haloti Ngata.

PITTSBURGH – Casey Hampton plays nose tackle for one of the greatest run defenses in NFL history, a five-time Pro Bowler for the Pittsburgh Steelers who's still playing at an optimum level.

Yet, even Big Hamp finds himself in awe of his counterpart with the Baltimore Ravens.

"Ngata a beast, man," Hampton said in his distinct dialect about Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

"Ngata probably the best interior guy doing it right now, playing the run and pass. There's no question about it."

Ngata came out of Oregon in 2006 as what appeared to be a classic nose tackle. But the 340-pounder runs so well that the Ravens put him at end in their 3-4 alignment next to nose tackle Kelly Gregg. And he's been killing the Steelers ever since.

"He could play both positions," Hampton said. "He's athletic. He's a big guy, can pass rush, play the run. He can do it all. I'm a fan of Ngata. I like Ngata's game a lot."

Ngata, of course, busted Ben Roethlisberger's nose the last time these teams met, and no one called it a cheap shot. The 6-foot-4 Ngata got low against Steelers right guard Ramon Foster and broke free just as Roethlisberger was stepping up into the pocket. Ngata wrapped his right arm around Roethlisberger's torso and his left hand got inside Roethlisberger's face mask and made "corn flakes" of his nose.

Foster said he's been working overtime on getting lower this week and that "it won't happen again."

A brave sentiment, but blocking Ngata has been a problem for the Steelers ever since he stepped into the Ravens' starting lineup as a rookie. Ngata's played in all 11 Ravens-Steelers games since 2006 and has 53 tackles, 5½ sacks, and an interception.

With Ngata, the Ravens have allowed the Steelers an average of 70 yards rushing per game and 2.7 yards rushing per carry. In the 11 Ravens-Steelers games prior to Ngata, the Steelers averaged 119 yards rushing per game and 3.5 per carry.

The Ravens obviously had the Steelers' running game in mind when they drafted Ngata, just as the Steelers had Ngata in mind when they drafted Maurkice Pouncey last April.

In accepting his team's Rookie of the Year award a couple of weeks ago, Pouncey called Ngata the best he's gone up against. Yesterday he explained why.

"He's so powerful," Pouncey said. "They move him all around the field. He plays probably every position – nose, d-end, 3-technique. He does it all. He's got a complete game for a defensive lineman."

Pouncey's most difficult moment with him?

"I just remember him toward the end of the last game, when he was just bull-rushing me on every play. We were trying to drive it at the end and I was like, ‘Golly, man, every play? You ain't going to try a different move?' He's just a great player. You've got to respect that kind of guy."

Does Pouncey breathe easier when he sees Ngata lining up elsewhere?

"Oh, no. I ain't scared of him now," Pouncey said. "I ain't scared of him, but he is a good player."

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