Facebook Twitter

Defense should rule for Dolphins-Ravens

Both teams have struggled on offense at times this year

SHARE Defense should rule for Dolphins-Ravens

MIAMI — Combine two dominating defenses with a pair of turnover-prone, spasmodic offenses led by erratic quarterbacks, and you've got Sunday's playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins.

Should be a bruising, low-scoring scrum, right?

"It'll be 69-68," Ravens coach Brian Billick joked.

Not likely; 9-8 is a better bet. One touchdown may be enough to win, which means one turnover may be enough to lose. For both teams, the goal will be to stay away from the giveaway.

"It's always a factor in the playoffs," Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler said. "Every mistake is magnified."

That's another thing the two teams have in common: mistakes.

If Miami (11-5) and Baltimore (10-6) had taken better care of the ball this season, they would have won their divisions and earned a first-round bye. But the Ravens and Dolphins ranked near the bottom in the NFL with 36 and 38 turnovers, respectively.

"It's like looking in a mirror," Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said.

For the Ravens, turnovers have been the biggest change from last season, when they won the Super Bowl. In 2000 Baltimore led the NFL with a turnover differential of plus 23. This season the Ravens rank 23rd at minus eight.

The Dolphins were even worse, tying for 27th at minus 10. In the five games they lost, the Dolphins committed 20 turnovers and forced none.

"You can't afford to turn it over," tight end Hunter Goodwin said. "One time could cost you the game. We just have to be careful with the ball and not do anything too fancy."

The same goes for the Ravens, who committed 22 turnovers and forced only five in games they lost.

"There are only so many opportunities with the ball in the playoffs," Grbac said. "You've got to take care of the prize that you have."

Both quarterbacks have struggled at times, but Fiedler has become more careful with the ball, while Grbac has gotten sloppier. Grbac threw for 28 touchdowns with 14 interceptions last season for Kansas City; this season he has 15 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. The Ravens are 0-5 when he is picked off at least twice.

Fiedler has thrown 20 touchdown passes and 19 interceptions, but the ratio was 9:15 in the first nine games and 11:4 in the past seven. He considers his improvement a reflection of experience gained as a second-year starter.

"The big key is decisionmaking," he said. "Early in the year I was getting rid of the ball very quickly. I wasn't letting a lot of things develop at times, and the interceptions were up.

"Turnovers are tough things to overcome, but we can overcome a sack. That has been a little more the focus — to let things develop and let me see everything before getting rid of the ball. If I have to eat the ball, that's what I'm going to do."

Fiedler is likely to encounter plenty of pressure against Baltimore, particularly from the left side. Peter Boulware, who led the AFC with 15 sacks, will line up against former Ravens teammate Spencer Folau, who became a starter for Miami only after two other left tackles sustained season-ending injuries.