- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 17, 2010

OWINGS MILLS, MD. (AP) - The Baltimore Ravens are still searching for an effective cornerback duo, and their struggling secondary has become a primary concern for a defense in danger of losing its reputation as one of the best in the NFL.

Cornerbacks Chris Carr, Fabian Washington, Josh Wilson and Lardarius Webb have been repeatedly burned this season. Washington’s futility cost him a starting job, and Webb and Wilson are still smarting from the beating that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Roddy White laid on them last Thursday in a 26-21 victory.

“It’s called the NFL,” Wilson said Wednesday. “You’re going to have your good days, you’re going to have your bad days. You have to weather them all.”

Ryan threw for 316 yards and three scores. Two games earlier, Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed four touchdown passes and rang up 382 yards passing.

The Ravens rank 13th in the NFL in passing yardage allowed, which goes a long way toward explaining why Baltimore has the 10th-ranked overall defense after finishing third last year _ its seventh consecutive season in the top six.

Perhaps all that will change if the secondary carousel comes to a stop. Wilson arrived on Sept. 1 in a trade with Seattle, Webb got a late start this season while recovering from a knee injury and six-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed missed the first six weeks following offseason hip surgery.

“Communication is getting better and needs to get better,” Reed said. “We thought we matched up well (against Atlanta), but the technical stuff on certain plays we didn’t do well.”

That’s what happens when a veteran defense takes on some new parts.

“A lot of us have played with each other for a long time, and then you add young pieces here and there,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “You start to fit your pieces in. I think this defense has the ability to do whatever we want to do once we finally start solidifying those pieces (and determine) who’s going to be our starter.”

Carr and Washington started the first two games together. After Wilson replaced Carr in Week 3 on the left side, the tandem of Carr and Washington started the next five games before Wilson took over for Washington in Atlanta.

Carr and Wilson will probably start again Sunday in Carolina, but coach John Harbaugh isn’t telling.

“I know one thing _ I’m going to try to keep my spot,” Wilson said. “Whatever the coaches decide from there is on them, but I control my own destiny.”

The Ravens would prefer to receive a consistent performance from all four cornerbacks, which would make substituting seamless.

“I definitely see it getting better,” Lewis said. “I think it’s chemistry. Right now, just moving the pieces the way we are _ going from Josh to Webb to Carr _ it’s great movement. It’s just a matter of putting it all together as a group.”

Webb is eager, but he’s only in his second season and coming off knee surgery. His youth _ not his knee _ made him a target last week in Atlanta.

“I haven’t been here 10 years. I didn’t even play my full rookie season,” he said. “I played what, five games at corner? They’re going to go after the young guys. It’s all part of the game.”

In spite of their difficulty on defense, the Ravens (6-3) are still tied for first in the AFC North and will play four of their final six games at home after Sunday. That leaves them plenty of time to lower that unsightly number 10 in the defensive rankings.

“Our focus is, if we keep stacking up Ws, all of that will come later,” Lewis said. “That’s a fact of football. Some of the teams higher than us have worse records than us. It can be misconstrued. We went through the roughest time of our schedule, now it’s time to start building on that. Stats will come with that.”

The Ravens could make a move against the Panthers (1-8), who will likely start either rookie Tony Pike or journeyman Brian St. Pierre at quarterback.

“I have all the respect in the world for the Baltimore defense,” Carolina coach John Fox said. “I think they’re playing good defense, and that’s why they have a good record.”

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