The 2013 Falcons season was a colossal disappointment for Falcons fans, and everyone within the Falcons organization. Considering the expectations they carried into the season, after all they accomplished in the previous year, it would be impossible to not be disappointed by the way 2013 finished for the Falcons.
Mike Smith asked Tony Gonzalez to address the team the night before their final game, to share some words of wisdom with his younger teammates. Gonzalez told them to try to learn something from this year.
There's a lot of growing you can have when you're in adversity, when you're in a losing situation. - Tony Gonzalez
The Falcons can, and must, learn from the adversity they experienced in 2013 if they hope to get back to form in 2014 and beyond.
One thing we've learned this year is that the team must find a way to be more balanced. Over the past several seasons, the Falcons have relied primarily on the offense, with a focus on the passing game, to be successful. When you have Julio Jones, a healthy Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez to throw the ball to, this seems like a reasonable approach.
It becomes a problem when you no longer have Julio Jones, and when Roddy White is a shadow of himself thanks to lingering injuries, and your offensive line is terrible, and you have no running game to alleviate some pressure. Regardless of the injuries, the offensive line and the poor rushing effort, the Falcons finished the season ranked 7th in the league in passing yards per game, but stats don't win games. The Falcons have to balance out their offense in order to be successful in 2014.
The Falcons need to balance out their game in general with the defense as well. There is a huge disparity between offensive talent and defensive talent, and that is by design. Following the playoff loss to Green Bay in the 2010 season, the front office decided that the Falcons would be built to outscore anyone and everyone, which is a fine idea unless your team is decimated by injury.
The Falcons have difficulty bringing pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they are susceptible to big plays, and they suffered greatly with injuries to key players. Atlanta's defense doesn't have to be stacked with All-Pro players, but they do have to be able to generate some pressure on quarterbacks, create some turnovers, and limit big plays.
Another thing we learned is that letting younger players and guys who have lingered down the depth chart get a shot to play can be a good thing. This is something that Mike Smith has been inflexible about. He tends to let young guys get a shot on special teams, and that's about it. We learned that undrafted free agent rookies Joplo Bartu and particularly Paul Worrilow have genuine potential.
We learned that Robert Alford was good enough in coverage as a rookie to earn Asante Samuel's starting role. We learned that Darius Johnson is probably good enough for a spot on the 53-man roster even without injuries to key players. We learned that Mike Smith, for some reason, is still reticent about letting Antone Smith play even though it doesn't make any sense.
We also learned this season that sustained success in the National Football League is hard to come by, and difficult to maintain. We learned that we shouldn't take it for granted. We learned that any team can fall prey at any time to injuries that can derail their entire season.
We learned that this Falcons team has been able to achieve five consecutive winning seasons, and four playoff appearances in five seasons, despite glaring weaknesses, and we learned that eventually those weaknesses caught up with them. We learned that those weaknesses must be addressed for this team to reach their ultimate goal of a Super Bowl victory.
Hopefully the coaching staff and the front office have learned that, also.