Turnover Battle is Key for Ravens, Miami

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On the Ravens' run to the playoffs, surging to close out the season with a 9-2 record that culminated in Sunday's 27-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, there haven't been too many mistakes made on the field - at least by the Baltimore offense.

Defensively, the Ravens have been forcing their share of slip-ups, which have played a large role in earning a wild card bid this weekend against the Miami Dolphins.

In flipping their record from 5-11 in 2007 to this year's 11-5 campaign, the Ravens have leapt from an NFL-worst negative-17 turnover differential to a plus-13 mark, third-best in the league.

That dramatic 30-giveaway swing is the league's biggest change.

"If you don't [take care of the football], you can't win in this league," said head coach John Harbaugh. "If you look at our season, when we've protected the football and gotten turnovers, we've won. That's the most important stat in football."

The 2008 Ravens returned to being the prolific thieves for which their defense has been known in the past. The unit, ranked second in total yardage allowed, has posted an NFL-high 34 takeaways, with 26 interceptions and eight fumbles recovered.

Chief among the burglars has been safety Ed Reed. The 2004 NFL Defensive Player of the Year leads the league with nine interceptions, posting two in three of his last four games.

And Reed, who also has recovered two fumbles, makes the most of his opportunities.

In week 13, he picked off Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick twice, taking one back an NFL-record 107 yards for a touchdown.

By being such a greedy ballhawk, Reed leads the conversation for yet another Defensive Player of the Year honor, but he isn't worried about individual statistics, especially with the Ravens preparing for their trip to South Beach.

"I could care less about defensive MVP and all that stuff," Reed said. "This is a team. I've been playing on a team all my life in this game. I know individual stuff comes, but I can't do it without my teammates. I can't do it without the offense scoring or the defensive guys swarming to the ball, knocking the quarterback around.

"This is a team sport."

This year, Reed is certainly correct. In improving their ratio by a whopping 30 turnovers, the Ravens have had a lot of help from their offense.

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has only thrown 12 interceptions all season, including three in the past six weeks.

Ball security has been a point of emphasis in the running game, as well. Over the past 11 weeks, the Ravens have only relinquished possession nine times. Five of those have been picks, two have been lost fumbles from Flacco and two fumbles have come from running backs.

And during that span, Baltimore has averaged 28.0 points per game, in part by taking care of the football.

"We want our offense to be aggressive," Harbaugh said. "We never say, 'Don't turn the ball over.' It's aggressive ball security. We want to score a lot of points, and we want to secure the football."

However, the Ravens will face a team in the first round of the playoffs that is even better at limiting giveaways.

Miami is No. 1 in the NFL with a plus-17 differential and only the seventh team in league history to average fewer than one turnover per game in a single campaign.

Quarterback Chad Pennington set a Dolphins record by completing 67.4 percent of his passes this year, while tossing a miniscule seven interceptions 476 attempts.

"The Miami Dolphins are a great example," Harbaugh explained. "I think one of the things they've done a great job of all year is protecting the football."

But that doesn't mean the Ravens' attacking defense - one that has seen so much success during their postseason march - will let up for a minute in Miami, no matter how careful the opposition is.

"We're going to try to force turnovers against the Dolphins just like we do everybody else," continued Harbaugh. "If they can hold up, they'll hold up. If they can't, they won't."

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