By John EisenbergRavens InsiderCSNbaltimore.com
Buried inside a matchup that looks relatively easy on paper for the Ravens this Sunday is a seemingly innocuous fact that portends trouble: The Seattle Seahawks utilize a 4-3 defensive front.
Not a big deal, right?
Actually, it could be a very big deal.
The Ravens offense has struggled against 4-3 defenses for several years, with quarterback Joe Flacco having an especially hard time.
While faring fairly well against tough defensive teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets who employ a 3-4 front three lineman and four linebackers the Ravens have had problems against 4-3 teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars.
They havent beaten the Colts since 2002. Theyve lost five of six in Cincinnati and always have a tough time with the Bengals at home. They managed just 20 points in a pair of upsets loss to the Titans and Jaguars earlier this season.
The Seahawks fans might be fixated on the numbers 2-6 their teams disappointing record this season but the Ravens are fixated on 4-3.
We really haven't done that well against that particular configuration, we havent done that well against (it) this year, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. We need to take care of business.
The 4-3 has given the Ravens so much trouble this season that they didnt generate a first down for 39 minutes against Jacksonville and had the ball for just 24 minutes against Tennessee because they couldnt sustain possessions.
Whatever the problem is, they need to correct it in a hurry, as they follow up this weekends trip to Seattle with a home game against the surprising Bengals on Nov. 20.
You have to attack them, Ravens running back Ray Rice said. The thing is with the 4-3 fronts, different than the 3-4, obviously its a different structure. You cant run the same kind of runs against a 3-4 that you are going to run against a 4-3. Blocking assignments are probably a little bit more downhill, rather than East and West. A lot of the stretch-and-cut things still apply, but you cant go into the game plan thinking that you are going to run the same plays you ran against the Steelers Its a totally different defense.
Harbaugh said his offensive coaches were studying films and brainstorming this week to try to come up with plays that work better against a 4-3.
The Ravens have struggled partly because they have big, physical linemen and the middle linebackers in 4-3 defenses tend to be quick. The Ravens also seldom see a 4-3, as they practice against their teams 3-4 every day, so theres a familiarity factor.
As well, 4-3 teams tend to create pressure on quarterbacks with just their four front linemen, leaving seven in pass coverage. Thats makes it harder for receivers to get open.
In the case of the Bengals, it is a cover-2 secondary alignment that has caused Flaccos problems. Struggling through his reads, he threw four interceptions in a week 2 loss in Cincinnati last season.
Its just a matter of execution, Rice said.
Seattles defense is hardly impregnable. It is ranked 13th in the league against the run, 18th against the pass and yielded 442 yards to the Dallas Cowboys in a defeat last Sunday.
A better performance in Seattle could help the Ravens diagnose their problem with the 4-3, which would be no small thing with games coming up against the Bengals and Colts.
Follow John Eisenberg on Twitter at @CSNEisenberg