Throughout the 2013 season, head coach Mike Smith has repeated one point when discussing the season: injuries aren’t an excuse. It’s no secret injuries can derail a season, but they don’t have to if a team’s roster can withstand losing players. During this season, injuries hit the Falcons and the players put in place to play for injured vets weren’t always able to play up to the standards the franchise has established under the direction of Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
While meeting with the media on Monday, Smith said the 4-12 record this season falls on him, not inexperienced players, injuries or any other reason bandied about for the Falcons’ first losing season since 2007.
“We faced a number of challenges as a football team and as a coaching staff this year,” Smith said. “It’s very obvious we were nowhere near the expectations that we had as a team and as an organization. Responsibility for that solely goes on me. We didn’t have the type of season that we wanted and we’re going to do everything in our power, starting last night at 7 o’clock, to work towards fixing that in 2014.”
Smith said a top-to-bottom evaluation of the season and everything that went wrong will be performed over the next two weeks as the staff and front office bring 2013 to a close and begin working making 2014 a return to winning ways. Dimitroff said changes and adjustments would need to be made all over the roster, but the GM believes the right people are in place in the right positions to return to prominence.
“I really truly believe we have the nucleus and the coach to turn things around quickly,” Dimitroff said.
Dimitroff added that he felt no single move propelled the Falcons to 4-12, but rather the aggregate of all the moving parts this season. He did say the franchise fell victim to a “missed assessment of the readiness to play together as a unit,” specifically pointing to the collective play of the Falcons offensive line, a unit that allowed 44 sacks of quarterback Matt Ryan this year.
If there was a lesson from 2013, it was that. Dimitroff said they did not properly assess the importance of how a player’s readiness would affect the team, but he, along with Smith, appears committed to improving the play up front.
Dimitroff discussed the importance of drafting young linemen versus signing players in free agency, but both Smith and Dimitroff said the goal in the offseason is to make sure the Falcons are a tough and gritty football team, especially along the O-line and no matter how the players are acquired.
“Football is tough,” Smith said. “It’s a tough sport that only tough people play. We have to do a better job of winning at the line of scrimmage. It’s important philosophically for us to do that. I don’t believe we did that effectively during the season and it’s something we definitely have to improve on.”
The Falcons couldn’t control the line of scrimmage this season and Smith said that was a big lesson learned in 2013. Dimitroff and Smith said they don’t want a team that is considered “finesse,” but rather a “tough, gritty team” that can stand toe-to-toe with any opponent and win more than they lose.
Currently, the Falcons have the mental toughness required to do anything in the league. This season, they learned some players may not be ready to fill such valuable roles, but both Dimitroff and Smith said the lessons they learned this year will be applied. They won’t take much time off before putting those lessons into action. Next year, Smith said, they’re going to ensure they have the best 53 players to make sure they win and they’re going to get started right away.
“The season doesn’t start in September,” Smith said. “The 2014 season starts tomorrow.”