Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith defended the toughness of his team, but owner Arthur Blank wouldn't fully agree with the assessment on Monday, telling Vaughn McClure of ESPN that the team wasn't "as tough as [it] needed to be."
"I'm going to give you a little different answer than Smitty gave you last week,'' Blank said. "He was asked the question about how tough our team was. And I read his answer. And in many ways, I would agree with it. But in some ways, I would not agree with it.
"I think, at the end of the day, if I asked you ... give me a brief definition of what toughness is, I think you might say something else, but you might say to me it's how you control the line of scrimmage. Can you run the ball? Can you stop the run? ... And I don't think we did either one of those things very well this year. So I would say, if you looked at toughness from that perspective, I don't think we were as tough as we needed to be."
After three consecutive trips to the postseason and five straight winning seasons, the Falcons were a stunning disappointment in 2013, finishing with a 4-12 record. The offense finished with the seventh-most passing yards in the NFL, but was last in rushing yardage. The defense allowed the second-most yardage on the ground.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times, a career-high, which drew praises from Blank, who said he felt the passer's pain and praised Ryan's toughness.
The Falcons own the sixth-overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft, and could use the pick to address offensive line struggles or help the team's anemic pass rush.