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The Ravens' defense is ranked 10th in the NFL – in the top third of the league.
But in Baltimore's locker room, that stat was met with varying reactions.
"Eww, that sucks," linebacker **Jarret Johnson** said. "That's not good. I've never been ranked [worse] than 6th at the end of the year. We want to be better than that."
Baltimore fans have long expected better than that, and, along with some media, have suggested that the Ravens' long-revered defense is slipping after it surrendered a fourth-quarter lead for the third time in four games last Thursday in Atlanta.
Safety **Ed Reed** rejected that notion, saying, "Some people don't know anything about football."
"We're still a great defense," he said. "If we got beat 63-0, something like that, then we've got concerns on defense. Score was 21-26."
The Ravens' defense has only once finished outside the Top 10 in the past 11 years. That was in 2002, when linebacker **Ray Lewis** played in a career-low five games due to injury.
Lewis urged not to put much stock in the Ravens' current standing. He said the Ravens have gone through the roughest part of their schedule. Baltimore has faced four teams in or tied for first place in their division on the road this season.
"Now it's time for us to start building on that, and stats will come with that if you're looking for those," Lewis said.
Lewis believes the Ravens will improve as their "moving parts" begin to settle in. The 35-year-old linebacker sees a defense that's infusing some youth into the ranks, including at cornerback and on the defensive line.
The Ravens have 25-year-olds **Lardarius Webb** and **Josh Wilson** in large roles on the outside and cornerback **Chris Carr**, 27, is in his first year as a full-time starter. Wilson took over as a starter for veteran **Fabian Washington**. Rookie defensive tackle **Terrence Cody** has also seen increasing snaps.
"You start to fit your pieces in on who starts to fit, who starts to gel," Lewis said. "I think this defense has the ability to go on and do whatever we want to do once we finally start solidifying those pieces on who's going to be our starters."
Baltimore's defense was ranked third in the NFL after its first five games. Since then, in games against New England, Buffalo, Miami and Atlanta, the Ravens have been allowing 58.6 more yards per game.
Much of the damage has been through the air. The Ravens have allowed seven passing touchdowns in the last four games compared to three in the previous five.
"I just think it's a lot of little things that have added up," Carr said. "Towards the middle of the season, teams have a lot of time to watch film, look at your tendencies and what you're doing. If you have little deficiencies here and there, they'll exploit them."
What has been perhaps most damaging are lost leads. The Ravens have held a lead in the fourth quarter of every game this season. They lost three of those games and won one in overtime against the Bills after a 10-point fourth quarter lead dissipated.
Lewis delivered a sidelines message about finishing before the Ravens took the field for the final drive in Atlanta. He repeated it to the team since the loss.
"If you've got a team down, put them away. Put them away," Lewis said. "Don't leave it in nobody else's hands, because when you leave it in somebody else's hands, you've got a chance of it coming up and ending the way it ended last week."
The Ravens' defense will have a chance to rebound this Sunday, as the Panthers enter the game with the league's worst-ranked offense. Due to injuries, Carolina will be starting a backup quarterback and running back – perhaps third-string at each position.