The Patriots offense is making progress.
Tom Brady completed 20 of 31 passes in Atlanta last weekend for 316 yards and two touchdowns. He didn't throw a pick and never took a sack. Patriots receivers came up with several explosive plays, including catches of 24, 34, 44, and 49 yards.
There is zero room to let up in Week 5. New England faces the stingy Bengals in Cincinnati Sunday afternoon.
"Defensively, they're outstanding," Bill Belichick said on his Tuesday conference call. "They do a great job of pressuring the quarterback, do a good job of stopping the run. They're very athletic, hard to block. The linebackers do a good job and make a lot of plays there. Pretty experienced secondary, pretty experienced across the board. Very well coordinated."
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels showed similar respect for New England's Week 5 opponent.
"This is one of the most difficult preparations that we have any year, going against a defense that [defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer] and [head coach Marvin Lewis] both have their hands in. I think they present you with some scheme issues in some of their creative blitz packages. They've always done a good job with that.
"They really have solid players, disruptive players at all three levels. I think that, to me, is a big challenge any time you play a defense that's got playmakers or guys that can create turnovers at all levels of the defense That always presents a big challenge for your offense because you have to do a good job of, first of all take care of the line of scrimmage against this team because this is a really disruptive front."
But the Bengals defense, like the 2-2 team as a whole, has hit some low notes this season.
In Week 1, it allowed Jay Cutler to throw for 242 yards and two touchdowns from behind a line with four new starters. The Bears quarterback had particular success over the middle, completing 8 of 11 passes 10 yards off the line of scrimmage down the middle of the field for 107 yards.
Last week's 17-6 loss to the Browns certainly wasn't pretty. Though the 'D' again allowed less than 300 passing yards, this time to former Patriots backup Brian Hoyer, it had to do better to help the struggling offense and couldn't.
The Bengals allowed nine third-down conversions to Cleveland, a team that had just 11 total in the previous three weeks. Hoyer, who was actually the backup to the Browns backup not long ago, orchestrated two scoring drives of over 90 yards.
Of course, it's on the Patriots to key on Bengals high points.
"They do a good job of creating negative plays in the running game, penetrating and getting in the backfield," McDaniels said. "The defensive ends that start, [Carlos] Dunlap and [Michael] Johnson, they do a really good job on the edge of forcing the ball inside a lot, and then [Geno] Atkins and [Domata] Peko are very good players inside certainly.
"The linebacking core, they’ve got a lot of guys that I am familiar with, and then the [Vontaze] Burfict kid, he’s doing a great job playing with [Rey] Maualuga and [James] Harrison in there. They’ve created turnovers, they do a good job of getting to the ball and tackling, they’re good blitzers, and the use them all in different ways."
Cincinnati pressured Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers all day in its 34-30 Week 3 win. Rodgers was sacked four times, and hit on at least eight of his dropbacks. He threw two picks and one touchdown.
"I think Leon Hall is a very, very good corner," McDaniels said. "He moves inside and plays inside in the nickel. I think he is very talented and does a good job of finding the ball. It is hard to beat him in man-to-man coverage. Reggie Nelson back there in the deep part of the field is a very active reader of the quarterback and you’ve got to make sure you do a good job of controlling him."
"They’ve really got a good group back there. They complement the front seven very well, and a lot of these guys have played together for a while. So, they understand the scheme that Coach Zimmer asks them to play in, and they do it very well."
McDaniels made no mention of the fact both Hall and Nelson, along with fellow starter cornerback Dre Kirpatrick, were inactive against the Browns last week. One reason is because the Patriots will prepare for every player on the roster, regardless of his status on the injury report. Another is the fact that Cincinnati's defense is still doing damage without them.
The Patriots offense is making progress.