Falcons fans and media alike have pointed to a lack of toughness on the field as one reason for the team's struggles throughout the 2013 season. The Falcons finished 2013 in the bottom half of the league for sacks allowed, and they hovered near the bottom of the league defensively, with a remarkable weakness against the run. Time after time we saw Matt Ryan knocked to the ground with minimal reaction from the line assigned to protect him. Time after time we saw offenses just take advantage of Atlanta's defense. The team was definitely not tough in 2013, regardless of how you define toughness.
The team did address the lack of toughness in 2013 via the 2014 NFL Draft and free agency, so we can hope that the personnel the Falcons have added will bring that element of toughness to the field in the coming season. How will we know, however, if they've been successful in toughening up the Falcons?
On defense, the team's performance against the run will be a decent indicator of toughness. The Falcons added some big bodies in Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, as well as Rashede Hageman, who is both very large and very athletic. Those players should help. Improving performance on opponents' third down attempts is also fundamentally important. Atlanta ranked last in the league for third down conversions allowed last season. An improved run defense should mean that teams will generally be trying to convert longer plays on third down, so that all works together.
Offensively, the sack numbers should be a good indicator of toughness. The Falcons also ranked 26th in the league for the number of non-sack hits the offensive line allowed on Matt Ryan. Run blocking was also an issue for the Falcons, and an area in which they will look to improve. Atlanta signed Jon Asamoah as a free agent and also added Jake Matthews in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft to address the weaknesses along the offensive line. New offensive line coach Mike Tice will try to coax all the toughness he can out of this unit this season, and improvement is desperately necessary.
What will be your criteria for determining if the 2014 Falcons have developed more toughness on the field?