The 2013 season sucked for the Atlanta Falcons. They went from being four points away from at least a Superbowl appearance to a 4-12 team that failed to make the playoffs.
Injuries to key players like Julio Jones certainly didn't help but one of the key reasons for the Falcons' struggles was the lack of physicality and aggression in their game. Right from the first play of the first game last season the Falcons were too demure and laid back. Franchise QB Matt Ryan was fouled after the whistle went and the Atlanta players allowed the attack to go by unchallenged.
Acts like that started the entire NFL thinking that the Falcons had gone soft. Even Falcons owner Arthur Blank was talking about the need for his team to be tougher. After episode one of HBO's Hard Knocks we can safely say that there has been a much needed culture change at the Falcons.
The foundations of this more physical and aggressive culture were already laid in preseason. Firstly, the Falcons spent their top two picks on lineman. The number six overall pick was used to bring in left tackle Jake Matthews. Whilst the second round number 37 pick was used to bring in the giant defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman. Straight away these two players should give the Falcons the tools to win the war in the trenches.
New Hard Men
Secondly, owner Arthur Blank made good on his desire to see a tougher team by bringing in new coaches on both sides of the line. Ex-Bears offensive co-ordinator Mike Tice came in as the offensive line coach whilst three time Pro-Bowl linebacker Bryan Cox was brought in to coach the defensive lineman. Both coaches will inject some aggression into their players.
Coming into training camp the increased aggression was obvious. Outside linebacker Kroy Biermann was clashed strongly with rookie tackle Jake Matthews. Seemingly unable to beat the rookie tackle Matthews Biermann, who had early been caught offside three time on one play, continued to wrestle with him and heavy blows were exchanged.
Nor was this the only sign of increased aggression. Rookie linebacker Jacques Smith's trash talking to the senior players led to punches being thrown after the whistle also.
As long as it isn't taken too far Falcons fans should be delighted with these signs of life from their team. After being labelled as weak and unaggressive as they slumped to a losing record last season it can only be good that the Falcons are planning to take no prisoners in the 2014 season.
The NFC South division gives the Falcons a great chance to bounce straight back into the playoffs possibly as the divisional champions. The Bucanners are in a rebuilding stage. The Panthers don't seem to have any sort of the passing game and whilst the Saints are strong they would seem to have a much tougher schedule.
The Falcons new aggressive attitude will take them far in the season ahead. It could be the difference between the making the playoffs or not.