Unlike Smith’s first two Atlanta teams, the current offense is struggling early and often. The Falcons (4-2) have scored first in just two of six games this season, and Smith wants the trend to stop Sunday when Cincinnati (3-2) visits the Georgia Dome.
“Since we’ve been here, this is a team that has started fast,” Smith said this week. “We’re not doing it right now.”
Two years ago, Atlanta outscored opponents 78-53 in the first quarter. Last season, the offense had a 114-52 advantage, but that’s not the case this year.
Against Cincinnati, Smith wants to see the offense gain momentum quickly. The Bengals should have fresh legs coming off a bye week, so it’s imperative for Atlanta to avoid a sluggish start.
“It’s something we have to continue to work on,” Smith said. “We’ve got to make sure we put our guys in the best situation to be successful. Right now we’re not getting it done.”
Before last week’s loss at Philadelphia, the trend was easier to ignore because the Falcons rallied in the fourth quarter to beat San Francisco and in the third to knock off Cleveland.
The Eagles, however, never gave them a chance. In Atlanta’s first five possessions, the offense managed just one first down, and quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked twice.
Philadelphia brought pressure with a steady zone blitz that forced Ryan to throw too often without setting his feet properly. Tight coverage made his predicament worse.
“I think it comes down to, on first and second down, we need to be a little bit better,” Ryan said. “We need to get some more yards so we’re not putting ourselves in third-and-long in the red zone, which is extremely tough.”
Nothing went right until the sixth drive. Roddy White caught a pair of third-down passes as the offense drove 52 yards on 11 plays, but Ryan’s troubles resurfaced when Asante Samuel intercepted a pass that bounced off tight end Tony Gonzalez.
“We need to get the chains moving on first and second down and hit a couple of play-action passes early in the game,” White said, “so we can get down there and score some points early.”
Despite their first-half struggles, the Falcons are playing well in the fourth quarter. Not only have they outscored opponents 34-9, but Ryan is completing 71 percent of his attempts and has a 90.2 passer rating in the final period.
Even more encouraging, the defense has yet to allow a fourth-quarter touchdown, but the offense could improve everyone’s jobs with some early scores.