FOXBOROUGH - The turning point in the Patriots' matchup with the Ravens tomorrow night could be turnovers.
Under coach Brian Billick, the Ravens are 8-46 when they're on the negative side of the turnover ledger and 61-5 when they're on the positive side.
"Hopefully we can keep those to a minimum," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "That's important, especially this week against a turnover-driven team like the Ravens whose record is so closely tied to the turnover ratio, like most games in this league are, but the Ravens in particular, they're pretty heavily tilted towards their advantage in turnovers and their winning percentage."
The Patriots enter the game with the fewest turnovers in the NFL (9) and lead the league in takeaway/giveaway margin (plus-16) - while the Ravens are last (minus-11). The Ravens' offense has turned the ball over 28 times, while the Baltimore defense has generated 17 turnovers.
Of the Patriots' nine turnovers, quarterback Tom Brady, the player who handles the ball the most, has seven of them - four interceptions (against 39 touchdowns passes) and three lost fumbles. Backup quarterback Matt Cassel threw an interception (for a touchdown) in a 49-28 win over the Dolphins Oct. 21, and kick returner Ellis Hobbs lost a fumble in a 38-14 victory over the Chargers Sept. 16.
Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller has eight turnovers (five interceptions and three lost fumbles) by himself.
"We can't turn the ball over," said Billick. "The Patriots certainly don't need a short field to continue to do what they're doing, and that's been our nemesis. When we don't turn the ball over, we've done some pretty good things, but when we turn the ball over and put our defense on the short field, or take ourselves away from a scoring opportunity after a drive, it's hard to win, as is evidenced by our record.
"That obviously is something that has to be avoided, but by the same token, you can't play a game with your sole purpose being not to turn the ball over. You have to be more aggressive than that, and that's exactly what we're going to do."
The Ravens practiced yesterday, but did so without tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) and cornerback Chris McAlister (knee) for the second consecutive day. Billick told Baltimore-area reporters that the two players would be game-time decisions. Heap has missed five of the Ravens' last seven games, and McAlister has missed four of the last five. Nine Ravens starters have missed a total of 44 games this season.
It will be interesting to see if the Patriots offense comes out with a more balanced approach than it did against the Eagles last week, when out of 29 first-half plays, only one - a 1-yard touchdown plunge by fullback Health Evans - was a designed run.
"It's kind of funny, we were walking in the tunnel last week and they were saying, 'Good one run for a touchdown. I think it was our only one,' " said Evans. "We won. I'm glad that game is behind us. We got another tough one."
Billick, who was the offensive coordinator for the 1998 Vikings team that holds the NFL record for points in a season (556), said that balance is overrated.
"I think they have the ability to be as balanced as they want to be," he said. "They're going in and doing whatever they think they have to do to move the ball. I've never been one to believe - and it doesn't look like they are - that you've got to run to set up the pass or pass to set up the run. If you can throw the ball, throw it. If you run it, you run it. And they have the capacity to do both."
In red numbers
The Ravens are the best team in the NFL in red-zone defense, allowing just 12 touchdowns in 35 opportunities. The Patriots are still last in the NFL, allowing 17 touchdowns in 24 tries. "I play defense, so I really can't control what they do on defense," said defensive end Ty Warren. "But it's always a personal motive [facing] any defense, especially a defense like the Ravens. Even though we don't physically face them, you always try to go out there and try to compete against the opposing defense. That's the only goal - to do the best we can do against their offense and try to be the best defense on the field that day."