FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick may feel the Patriots "have a long way to go" as a team, but the pass defense is executing, and executing well.
Opponents are gaining just 188.3 yards through the air per game. Quarterbacks are averaging a paltry 50.5 completion percentage. They've thrown more picks (four) than interceptions (seven). Neither the Bills, nor the Jets, nor Buccaneers have gouged New England's defense with a play of 40-plus yards.
How much of the success has to do with playing Buffalo, New York, and Tampa Bay? Well, facing two rookie quarterbacks could help pad your stats. And veteran Josh Freeman is no stud; his 45.7 completion percentage has at least something to do with getting benched in favor or Mike Glennon.
The Falcons will be a change of pace. Belichick had high praise for sixth-season signal caller Matt Ryan.
"He does a good job with his pre-snap reads, he uses all of his weapons – running backs, tight ends, receivers. I wouldn’t say he’s a big scrambler, but he can run and he can hurt you scrambling if you give him the opportunity so you have to be cognizant of that. But he doesn’t have many bad plays, he has a lot of good ones.
"He’s a real good quarterback."
Ryan's Week 3 stat line against the Dolphins only tells part of the story. He completed 23 of 38 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns and an interception. Ryan was 8-for-9 on his first drive, which was punctuated by a touchdown. He went into the break going 15-of-17.
That's when the protection broke down.
Atlanta's offensive line isn't holding up against pressure. The Dolphins didn't sack Ryan, but handed out a lot of hits. Left tackle Lamar Holmes alone surrendered one hit and six pressures, including the rush by Miami's Dion Jordan, who hit Ryan's arm on Atlanta's final play to force the interception.
The Dolphins won, 27-23.
Belichick, of course, isn't concerned with what Miami accomplished. Nor is he content to let his defense kick back because it's had three good weeks. New England's schedule is about to take a serious turn as three passing offenses ranked in the top third of the NFL -- Atlanta at No. 7, Cincinnati at No. 11, and New Orleans at No. 4 -- roll on up.
And it starts with Matt Ryan.
"He has a good touch, he does a good job throwing the ball down the field, reads coverages well, doesn’t make many mistakes, manages the game well. He’s accurate, he’s tough, he’ll definitely stand in there, throw the ball and take a hit," Belichick said.
"He has very few bad plays, let’s put it that way. So, consistency, I think that’s the mark of any great player. He’s pretty consistent: every play, every game, every series. He does a lot of things right."
The Patriots defense will truly look good if they make this one look bad.