No team has appeared more maddeningly inconsistent through the first 10 weeks of the NFL season than the Baltimore Ravens. In games versus the New York Jets, Houston Texans, and the arch-rival Pittsburgh Steelers—twice—Joe Flacco and Co. have appeared not just great, but at times, thoroughly dominant on offense, defense and special teams, especially at home. When they haven't dominated, they've shown an uncharacteristic ability to rise up in big moments and come back, especially during Flacco's ballsy comeback drives against Arizona and Pittsburgh.
There's no, clearly identifiable, reason for this maddening lack of consistency. Some have pointed to the three losses coming on the road, but that doesn't explain the team's dominant road win in St. Louis or the thrilling victory in Pittsburgh. Others have guessed that the team might not be able to handle success, resulting in letdowns after big wins.
But there might be a simpler, more practical reason for the struggles that has only been publicized by a few outlets. The Ravens have racked up a 5-0 record this season when playing against a 3-4 defense, the same scheme that their own defense most commonly runs. Against the slightly more common 4-3 defense, the team has just a 1-3 record, with the single victory coming against a previously winless St. Louis team.
During the three losses, Joe Flacco has been held under 200 yards passing twice, and he only passed the benchmark against the Seahawks because he threw an astonishing 52 passes. Additionally, Ray Rice has had his three worst rushing totals of the year against the 4-3.
Struggling against a certain defensive scheme could stem from the offense's familiarity with practicing against their own defensive players, who are used to playing in a 3-4. It could be a result of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's inability to adjust his game plan based on the opponent's scheme. It's difficult to prove any of these theories, but the offense's struggles against the 4-3 are clearly visible.
So, what does this mean for their playoff hopes? The Ravens will play three more games against 4-3 defenses during the regular season; two against the surprising, but untested Bengals, and one against the sad sack Colts. Two of the three are at home, where the team has historically dominated both good and bad teams under Harbaugh and Flacco. If the defensive scheme troubles are really the major reason for their inconsistency, they should be able to finish the regular season with no more than a couple more losses.
In short, the Ravens should hope that their troubles with the 4-3 scheme are the sole reason for their three losses, however unlikely that is. Because once they play meaningful games against the league's elite teams, they won't even have to think about it any more.