We know in 2013 the team was decimated by injuries. Some personnel decisions turned out being disastrous. Despite this, many believed the team was any mixture of disinterested, soft and effortless. In Mr. Freeman's article, many around the league agreed the team lacked the drive to win.
Punch the Falcons in the mouth, one assistant coach told me, and they fall to the canvas.
The team had lost track of the fundamentals after years of success. Many on the team waited around for someone else to make a play and win the game. Now the Falcons have taken steps to change and get back to being an intimidating team. Did we hear the word "toughness" a few dozen times on Hard Knocks?
The Falcons themselves seem to acknowledge the team needs to toughen its backbone. The theme at camp this year has been "nothing will come easy." Fight for everything. . . . This is Camp Punch You in the Face.
Camp Punch You in the Face is also one of the least popular children's summer camps ever.
Jamal Anderson shared his theories for what happened. The team got complacent knowing Roddy White and Julio Jones will cover up other issues. Veterans like Tony Gonzalez got vacations from training camp.
Instead of vacations, there are fights. Only two years ago the team's offensive line was called dirty, and now they are trying to bounce back from being beaten and manhandled by every team in the league.
Of note is Anderson's belief that Ryan is embracing a bigger role. Perhaps seeing the need to be a more vocal leader, the quarterback is ready to lead the team when they are struggling.
"His demeanor has always been very Brady/Manning," Anderson said. "Appears like he's more of a leader on the field at camp."
Freeman says that Ryan is the most vocal he has ever been during camp. This is a positive sign that Ryan is considering the Falcons to be "his" team and may be taking a Peyton Manning level of control with the offense.
The team certainly appears dedicated in preventing another disappointing season, with players and coaches seeing the need for change. With the Falcons not lacking the necessary talent, Freeman believes Atlanta can the biggest surprise of 2014.