- Associated Press - Friday, October 22, 2010

FLOWERY BRANCH, GA. (AP) - Coach Mike Smith is tired of watching the Atlanta Falcons play catch-up.

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.

The Falcons have been outscored the Falcons 45-14 in the opening period.

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.

Overall, Atlanta’s 15 completions of 20 or more yards rank 17th, and last week at Philadelphia, Ryan averaged just 5.4 yards per attempt _ this despite completing five passes for 20-plus yards.

It also should help that Michael Jenkins returned last week for the first time this season from a shoulder injury. The starting receiver caught five passes for 99 yards.

“We have an explosive offense,” White said. “We just have to hit the explosive plays.”

Notes: The Falcons announced that former cornerback Deion Sanders will be inducted into the team’s ring of honor Nov. 11 against Baltimore. … CB Dunta Robinson (concussion) was limited in practice Friday and is listed as questionable for the Bengals game. … OLB Sean Weatherspoon (knee) and TE Justin Peelle (groin) will not play. … Bengals CB Johnathan Joseph (ankle) and DT Pat Sims (knee) are questionable.

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