While he may not have been the dominant anchor that he was during his prime years in Baltimore, Haloti Ngata was still an inside force on the Detroit Lions’ defensive line from 2015-17. He showed little regression in the first five games of last season before he suffered a torn biceps.
But the new Eagles defensive tackle, who signed a one-year contract on Thursday, is now one year older and coming off surgery. How much could the 34-year-old have left at this point in his career?
“I feel I have a lot,” Ngata said last week.
If true, he could be an upgrade over Beau Allen, who left for the Buccaneers via free agency. And Ngata, a long-time starter, should get an extra breather as the third defensive tackle behind Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan. From 2015-16, he played about 63 percent of the time. Allen was on the field about 42 percent of the time last season for the Eagles.
As for scheme, Ngata shouldn’t have to make much of a transition in Philly. The Lions’ 4-3 front utilized a similar one-gap technique. Ngata had the opportunity to play in a multiple front had he stayed in Detroit with new coach Matt Patricia. But he had done the two-gap, 3-4 thing with the Ravens and said his preference was to stay in an aggressive system.
The 6-foot-4, 340-pound Ngata is known as a run stopper, but he was once one of the best pound-for-pound pass rushers. He can still move well. Here’s a closer look at Ngata from last season and how he may contribute to the 2018 Eagles defense:
The Lions were a decidedly different run defense before and after Ngata’s injury, at least statistically. In their first five games with him, they allowed just 74.6 yards a game and 3.3 yards per rush on the ground. In their final 11 games without Ngata, the Lions gave up 129.7 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.
Ngata’s (No. 92) strength has always made him a difficult one-on-one assignment for guards, as the Giants’ Justin Pugh (No. 67) found out firsthand on this play.
Ngata was explosive enough to shoot gaps, but he could be a one-man wrecking crew. He ran over Falcons backup guard Wes Schweitzer (No. 71) on the way to tripping up running back Devonta Freeman (No. 24) on this play.
Ngata has always drawn a lot of attention and double teams.
Ngata: I’m a big guy. But I don’t see that happen much here because there’s too many good defensive linemen here.
Cox has drawn the most inside double teams over the last several years, but if offenses focused too often on the all-pro, other Eagles linemen would make them pay. Ngata anchors well against double-team blocking. On this play, he clogged a gap and forced Giants tailback Paul Perkins (No. 28) to alter his path.
Ngata was an immovable beast at times. A good run defense is one in which all 11 players play off each other. Every defender has a job in terms of gap discipline, but when Ngata could tie up two linemen and hold his ground, it would often allow the next wave of linebackers and safeties to make tackles at or near the line.
Ngata: It was still just shooting gaps in Detroit. Sometimes you got doubled teamed by the way you were penetrating.
Soft-spoken off the field, Ngata is often violent at the point of attack. On this play, he shed a blocker, got a hand on running back Christian McCaffrey (No. 22) and would not be denied.
Ngata averaged five sacks and 10 quarterback hits a season from 2010-12. He went to five straight Pro Bowls on the strength of his run defense, but he could be a handful on passing downs. He still got after quarterbacks last season as he showed here when he sacked Eli Manning. Ngata benefited from a stunt and good coverage, but he kept chugging until he caught the quarterback and slammed him to the ground.
He can also rush from other inside spots. On this play, he stood over the nose of Panthers backup center Tyler Larsen (No. 69) and walked him back into quarterback Cam Newton (No. 1).
Like many inside linemen, Ngata saw his share of double teams on passing downs. He’s not an elite rusher, though, and doesn’t have much in the way of moves vs. solo blocking.
HIGH MOTOR / EFFORT
But there is hardly ever a time when he doesn’t give full effort. On this play, despite getting chopped to the ground, he got up, ran downfield and tripped up Freeman from behind.
And on this rush, despite getting doubled, he followed the ball, chased Cardinals running back David Johnson (No. 31) out of the backfield and crunched him from behind short of a first down.