Foxboro, MA - Bill Belichick's complex defensive schemes can be tough for young quarterbacks to contend with. His last opponent didn't appear intimidated, though, and Matt Ryan has no reason to be, either.
Oddsmakers from online sports book Sportsbook.com have made the Patriots -4 point spread favorites (View NFL odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 52% of bets for this game have been placed on the Patriots -4 (View NFL bet percentages).
With Tom Brady back at quarterback, New England (1-1) was expected to dominate the AFC East once again. Brady, however, struggled last Sunday and the Patriots had struggled against New York Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez in a 16-9 loss.
A young New England secondary couldn't make plays in the second half against Sanchez, who has been impressive in leading the Jets to the top of the division.
Now, the Patriots face a quarterback who is showing no signs of slowing down after an impressive first year. Ryan has thrown for five touchdowns against one interception, and the reigning NFL offensive rookie of the year now looks to lead Atlanta to its first 3-0 start since 2004.
"The kid looks like a polished NFL quarterback," Belichick said.
Two of the Falcons' touchdowns have been scored by tight end Tony Gonzalez, who appears to be Ryan's new favorite target. Gonzalez leads the team with 12 catches for 144 yards after being acquired in a trade with Kansas City in April.
"He's one of the greatest tight ends of all time," Ryan said. "That was a huge pickup for us. He makes big plays for us in different situations when we need him. I've enjoyed playing with him thus far."
New England's play against tight ends has been "probably average," according to defensive coordinator Dean Pees. The Patriots were hurt by a 9-yard TD pass to Jets tight end Dustin Keller in the second half of their last contest.
"Just overall we need to do a lot of things better: coaching, playing, offense, defense, special teams, big guys, skilled guys, you name it," Belichick said.
Brady wasn't expected to be a cause for concern, but he is coming off major knee surgery and appeared skittish in the pocket versus New York as New England was held without a TD for the first time in 42 games. The three-time Super Bowl champion was picked off once and completed 48.9 percent (23 for 47) of his passes for the Patriots, who were shut out in the second half.
Brady, however, was without Wes Welker (knee), who had 12 catches in Week 1 and a team-high 111 last season. Welker's status for Sunday is uncertain.
Julian Edelman caught eight passes as the third receiver and Joey Galloway had five receptions for 53 yards in place of Welker, but Randy Moss was limited to four catches for 24 yards.
A struggling running game didn't help. New England rushed for 83 yards after being limited to 73 in a 25-24 season-opening win over Buffalo on Sept. 14.
Against the Falcons, the Patriots may want to be more aggressive with their ground game. Atlanta surrendered 144 yards rushing to Carolina in a 28-20 win last Sunday and has a big hole to fill on the defensive line.
Rookie Peria Jerry, a first-round pick who was starting at tackle, suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Panthers. Thomas Johnson had not played in the NFL since 2006 until making the Falcons' roster, but he will move into a starting spot.
Atlanta also can move defensive end Chauncey Davis inside to give it the sort of quickness Jerry provided in passing situations.
"Anytime you lose somebody to an injury, it's very tough," Davis said. "But we just have to deal with it and keep moving on. Some other guys are going to have to step up and play a big part in our defense."
Jerry's loss hurts what already had been a defensive front lacking depth.
Vance Walker was signed off the practice squad to help replace Jerry. The Falcons also have Trey Lewis, but he has yet to play this season after missing all of 2008 with a knee injury.
In its last matchup with New England, Atlanta gave up 141 yards rushing as it lost 31-28 at home Oct. 9, 2005. Brady completed 22 of 27 for 350 yards and three TDs.
Posted: 9/23/09 4:14PM ET