As fans, we're always searching for reasons why things went wrong. I think we've pretty much established that injuries, poor depth, a lackluster ground game, weak defense and the occasional boneheaded coaching decision doomed the 2013 and 2014 teams. The question is, what can this current Falcons team learn from those problems?
1) Go with what works on offense
The Falcons simply refused to learn in 2013 that their ground game wasn't going anywhere. Rather than using the run sparingly and having a short passing game that could pick up the slack, the team leaned heavily on Steven Jackson and threw way too many screens in the backfield that gave the receiver virtually no shot to escape behind a banged-up offensive line. The team was in a bad way, of course, but their reliance on a woeful run game hurt them.
We're all hoping for more balance on offense this year, of course, but Kyle Shanahan needs to not be stubborn if Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman can't manage to get things going this year. The team brought in Justin Hardy, Jacob Tamme, Leonard Hankerson and Tony Moeaki , and if they don't boast the best receiving corps in the NFL, it's still one that is capable and has plenty of weapons. Similarly, if injuries hit the receiving corps and the two young backs are doing good work, it's time to turn the keys over to the ground game.
It sounds like a simple lesson, and it is. But with the old coaching staff so frequently clinging to what used to work instead of what did, it's still a valuable one to learn.
2) Don't bury young players
To some extent, the poor performance of the starters served to make the option of starting Jonathan Massaquoi or Devonta Freeman more enticing. But that doesn't mean the Falcons wouldn't have been better served playing younger players with more upside a year ago, even if the end result may have been just as ugly.
Every coaching staff gets attached to certain players and plays favorites to an extent, even if they would like to believe they don't. The next Falcons team needs to be willing to go away from struggling veterans and toward the future if things aren't going well, especially if the season doesn't turn out quite the way we all hope it will.
With Ricardo Allen seemingly out ahead of Charles Godfrey at free safety, and with Ra'Shede Hageman drawing early starter's snaps, this looks like a lesson the team may already have learned.
3) Be aggressive as hell
Mike Smith was a quality coach for Atlanta for years, but his too often would follow a gusty fourth down call with a timeout at the wrong moment or a kneel to cap the first half when the team could have tried to scored some points. He aws burned a couple of times on those fourth down calls, even if they were absolute the right decision, and it did seem to spook him.
This Falcons team has one of the better offenses in the NFL on paper, so it would behoove them to act like it. Go for it on short fourth downs in enemy territory, be willing to take more strikes downfield and certainly try to put as many points on the board as possible. This team needs to play to win.
That's to say nothing of the defense, where actually getting after the quarterback instead of attempting to fool teams with smoke and mirrors defense will be absolutely essential. With an improved corps of cornerbacks, veteran linebackers and a dynamic young pass rusher up front, that should be a no-brainer.
What lessons are you hoping this team learned from the last two seasons?