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2013 Season Recap: Ouch.
by: Michael Aprile
The 2013 season was one full of promise, full of expectations, and unfortunately full of disappointments. If it were a heavyweight bout, the Falcons got knocked out cold in the first round. The feeling most of us as fans were left with was utter shock and disbelief. Finishing with a brutal 4-12 record after being picked by many as a preseason Super Bowl pick seemed unimaginable. How could a team that came so close just one season ago fall so far so fast? Injuries were a major part of the problem as many vital players missed significant playing time, but there was much more to it. Let’s take an in-depth look at why the 2013 season didn’t turn out as planned.
Failed Youth Movement: The Falcons front office took a leap of faith by releasing long-time starters John Abraham, Todd McClure, and Tyson Clabo. That gamble did not pay off as replacements Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes, and Osi Umenyiora failed to adequately replicate the consistent production we came to expect from their predecessors. The young guns simply were not ready. Couple that with the fact that the Falcons were hit hard by the injury bug and it’s easy to see why the "Dirty Birds" only managed 4 wins.
Key Injuries: This Falcons team was loaded with talent, but take away a team’s top two receivers, two starting offensive tackles, it’s defensive leader, plus other key veterans, and you’re obviously going to have huge problems. Losing Julio Jones for the entire season early on with a foot injury was the biggest blow, and without a healthy Roddy White for nearly all 16 games sucked out every bit of explosion this offense was built around. Running back Steven Jackson, the team’s top free-agent signing, also missed time with a hamstring injury that seemed to linger until late into the season. Left tackle Sam Baker went on injured reserve with a knee injury that rendered him basically useless in the few games he played in. Starting right tackle Mike Johnson broke his fibula and dislocated his ankle during the preseason, and starting fullback Bradie Ewing broke his shoulder just two games into the year. Both were lost for the season.
On defense, veteran play-making cornerback Asante Samuel missed time with a thigh injury and eventually lost his starting job to rookie Robert Alford. Starting defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann, who was a key piece injury Mike Nolan’s defense, was lost for the season in Week 2 with an achilles tear. Sean Weatherspoon, the Falcons defensive captain and leader was put on short-term injured reserve and missed two months with a foot injury. Linebackers Stephen Nicholas and Akeem Dent also missed time. All together, 11 out of 22 starters missed time with injuries. That’s exactly half of the starting the lineup. It’s no wonder why Atlanta struggled to compete at times.
Coaching: Mike Smith entered his sixth season as the Falcons head coach and looked to build on a strong 2012. Unfortunately, he had one of his worst seasons as the head coach in Atlanta. Looking back, hindsight is always 20/20, but he clearly made some outright bad decisions in 2013. He should’ve chosen to rest Roddy White after his high ankle sprain in the preseason rather than having him play not near 100%. It only prolonged his recovery and kept healthy guys like Harry Douglas and Drew Davis from making more of an impact. Smith also waited too long to bench struggling starters. Why did it take so long to replace Konz with Joe Hawley? Right guard Garrett Reynolds was awful but wasn’t replaced until after Konz was benched. Saftey Thomas DeCoud, a train-wreck all season long, was only taken out of the starting lineup because of injury. Many fans also wondered why electric running back Antone Smith wasn’t getting more touches. Coach Smith made questionable decisions throughout the year. He must get better in those situations if he wants to remain in Atlanta going forward. After this disaster of a season, he’s got to be on a short leash with owner Arthur Blank.
Positives: The silver lining in a down year is always the development of young players. First-round pick Desmond Trufant had an outstanding year with 2 interceptions and 17 pass deflections. Trufant was named the Pro Football Focus defensive rookie of the year as well as being named to the All-Rookie teams of ESPN, Pro Football Writers of America, and NFL.com. Undrafted rookie free agent linebacker Paul Worrilow exploded onto the scene and led the team with 127 tackles while starting less than a full season. Other young players to emerge were cornerback Robert Alford, linebacker Joplo Bartu, defensive ends Jonathan Massaquoi and Malliciah Goodman, tackle Ryan Schraeder, and receiver Darius Johnson. If some of these young players can take the next step and become solid starters in the future, Atlanta’s talent level will be off the charts; they’ve just got to put it all together on the field.
All in all, 2013 was not what any of us expected, but with many lessons learned by the coaching staff and front office, this past season could have been the wake up call that was needed to take the next step in winning a Super Bowl.
Up next: Player grades and season analysis for every 2013 Atlanta Falcon.