For a franchise quarterback to succeed, he needs an offensive line that is capable of protecting him.
The Falcons failed to protect Matt Ryan in 2013 as he was continually under duress. At season's end, Ryan was sacked a career-high 44 times and hit a league-high 203 times.
In 2014, the Falcons made a concerted effort to provide Ryan with necessary protection.
Mike Tice was signed to coach the offensive line.
They went out and signed Jon Asamoah to bring stability to the right guard position - something the team has lacked since letting Harvey Dahl walk after the 2010 season.
And they drafted tackle Jake Matthews out of Texas A&M with the sixth overall pick.
But a line that was supposed to consist of Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Joe Hawley, Asamoah, and Matthews never came to fruition as players were hit with a rash of injuries.
Baker went down for the season in the second preseason game. Both Hawley and Lamar Holmes were lost for the season in Week 4. Peter Konz became the fourth lineman to be put on injured reserve in Week 7.
At the end of the year, Atlanta's starting offensive line was: Matthews, Blalock, James Stone, Asamoah, and Ryan Schraeder.
But in the end, Ryan was sacked fewer times (31) than the season before. On the other side
Let's take a look at the starting five linemen who finished the season for the Falcons.
Rookie offensive linemen rarely step into a starting role and perform like a seasoned veteran, so it's no surprise Jake Matthews struggled in his first year in the league.
His good games were few and far between and he especially struggled with speedy edge rushers. Jason Pierre-Paul in particular had a field day matched up against Matthews in Week 5.
A caveat: Matthews played through a high ankle sprain he suffered in the season opener, and his performance was clearly affected by the injury. He only sat out one game, and that was the very next week.
The rookie looked at lot better towards the end of the season but a Lisfranc foot injury forced him to exit the season finale.
There's no reason to think Matthews will have a similar season next year and it'll be easier to judge him once he's fully healthy. One thing's for sure: he's gutsy for playing through an injury that should sideline a player for some weeks.
Even longtime stalwart Justin Blalock wasn't immune to the injury bug. For the first time in 102 starts, he was forced to sit out a game with a back injury.
As has been the case since the Falcons drafted him in 2007, Blalock was — for the most part — stout in pass protection.
And again, as has been the case throughout his career, he left a lot to be desired on the run blocking front.
With the hiring of offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons are likely to implement a zone blocking scheme. If there's a starter on the Falcons line that could be miscast for said scheme, it's Blalock.
James Stone had some not-so-great games, but by and large, the undrafted rookie free agent exceeded expectations when called upon to man the center position after Hawley and Konz went down for the season.
Stone drew a heap of praise from former offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who harped on his intelligence and competitiveness.
Stone's improvement and comfortability became clear as the season went on.
Ultimately, Hawley should return next season to reclaim his rightful spot, but it's good to know Stone's fully capable of stepping in.
The Falcons hit a home run signing ex-Kansas City Chief Jon Asamoah. He brought security to the troublesome right guard position that has been nothing more than a turnstile since 2011.
Asamoah was easily the most consistent performer as he rarely allowed pressures and, although not his strong point, made contributions in the run game.
Asamoah's contract is up after the 2018 season, and it's safe to say the Falcons won't have to worry about upgrading his position at any point during his tenure in Atlanta.
Ryan Schraeder, like Stone, was a pleasant surprise once he was inserted into the starting lineup.
The second-year undrafted player cemented himself as the starting right tackle for next season after an aggressive, sound performance in 2014.
Don't let the game he had in the season finale fool you: the Carolina Panthers' defensive line dismantled the Falcons' offensive line across the board. The exact same thing happened in 2013.
Overall, the Falcons look to be in good shape up front for 2015 and Shanahan's zone blocking scheme should help open up the struggling run game a bit.