Matt Ryan and the Falcons are not off to the high-flying start many expected them to be heading into today's NFC duel with Seattle. Both are 1-2 coming into the game.
SEATTLE -- When Pete Carroll looks at the personnel Atlanta will bring to Seattle today, he can't fathom a Falcons offense that in two of three games this season failed to score more than one touchdown.
All he sees is Week 2 when the Falcons won a shootout with Philadelphia and looked reminiscent of the team that routed Carroll's Seahawks a season ago.
Want To Watch?
WHO: Falcons (1-2) at Seahawks (1-2).
WHAT: Falcons' 4th game.
WHEN: 4:15 p.m. today.
LINE: Falcons by 4 1/2 points.
"In the tough game with Philadelphia how they just came roaring back and they had all the firepower you could ever want, great leadership with Matt (Ryan) the quarterback, the receivers and Tony Gonzalez," Carroll said.
Carroll then added: "Just everything that you could hope to have on a football team, they have. ... So that's the team we're preparing for. We know that they have all of that ability and we better get ready."
Surprisingly though, the Seahawks (1-2) might not be the cure-all the Falcons (1-2) could use when the teams meet on Sunday. While Seattle's offense continues to set one of the early season standards in futility in the NFC, the Falcons aren't exactly lighting up scoreboards.
In the opener against Chicago, the Falcons failed to score an offensive touchdown. In last week's 16-13 loss at Tampa Bay, Atlanta's offense didn't find the end zone until the fourth quarter.
And while a trip to the Pacific Northwest might seem the perfect remedy for the Falcons, they'll be facing a Seattle defense that's been the bright spot of a shaky start in Carroll's second season. The Seahawks have already shut down San Francisco's Frank Gore in the opener, then did a number on Arizona star Larry Fitzgerald last week, holding him without a catch in the second half for just the eighth time in his career.
Seattle ranks 10th in the league overall so far defensively and 10th against the pass. It's a huge, albeit early jump from a secondary that ranked 27th last year against the pass.
But they'll get their biggest test against Ryan and his stable of receivers. Ryan threw for a career-high 330 yards last week against Tampa Bay, with 140 of those going to Roddy White, who finished with nine catches. Rookie Julio Jones added six catches for 115 yards.
"It's just been a big emphasis on keeping everything in front of us and eliminating the explosive (plays) because that kind of demoralizes the whole defense and that's when the bad stuff starts creeping in," Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. "We don't want to be a liability so we just try our best and take our jobs seriously. We stay late. We just try to get any tips and tendencies that they bring and we go from there."
Those playing on Seattle's defense will look unfamiliar to Ryan. Of the Seahawks starting defense from last year's Week 15 game the Falcons won 34-18 only five remain.
"There are a few changes, that's for sure. But (Chris) Clemons on the defensive line is one of the better ones you see," Ryan said. "He's quick off the ball, a really good pass-rush guy, so we're going to have to know where he's at this week."
Knowing where Clemons is will be important for an offensive line that's struggled to keep Ryan vertical. He's been sacked 13 times already after being taken down just 23 times all of last season. The 13 sacks is third most in the league, with his Seattle counterpart Tarvaris Jackson knowing all too well how that feels.
Jackson's been sacked 14 times -- behind only Chicago's Jay Cutler -- but Seattle's offensive line showed progress last week against Arizona at protecting Jackson. After getting sacked four times in the first half against the Cardinals, Jackson went untouched in the second half, except when he was scrambling for the Seahawks only touchdown in their 13-10 win and bulling through Arizona safeties Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes at the goal line.
Jackson and the Seahawks offense as a whole was helped by the debut of Sidney Rice, who had eight catches for 109 yards. But getting more of Seattle's receivers involved is a priority. Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller and Mike Williams have a combined 10 catches in three games.
"We plan to really utilize everybody. We're hoping that it feels like we've got guys," Carroll said. "When you play the Atlanta Falcons, you've got issues with their guys. We would like to present our opponents with that same situation."
Atlanta hasn't started 1-3 since beginning the 2007 season 1-4. That was the year the Falcons crumbled and eventually landed the No. 1 pick, which turned into Ryan.
Perhaps the most impressive sign of Ryan's early success is that only twice in three-plus seasons with Ryan as the starter have the Falcons lost consecutive games. But a loss to the Seahawks would leave Atlanta already playing catch-up in the loaded NFC South and with a home game next week against Super Bowl champion Green Bay.
"I think we have high expectations of ourselves and I don't think anybody would say that we've kind of played up to the standards that we set for ourselves," Ryan said. "But it's a long season and you have to stay mentally tough and stay patient and keep doing things the right way and trust that we're going to make plays and we're going to become more consistent."