After averaging 11 wins in the first five seasons under general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith, the Falcons plummeted to four wins last year. They couldn't protect Matt Ryan, finished 32nd in rushing, failed to stop the run and had no prayer of harassing opposing quarterbacks.
New offensive line coach Mike Tice believes high-profile stars such as Ryan, Julio Jones and Steven Jackson can't function at a high level unless the team receives improved play in the trenches.
"I've looked at the offense as a fancy sports car," Tice said Tuesday, via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "You have your spokes -- your rims; they tell me don't say 'spokes' -- and your fancy paint jobs and your tinted windshields. And then you have your engine.
"The offensive line has to be the engine that lets the fancy rims and the paint job look good. If the engine's not working, the paint job looks like (expletive). ... We're the engine, and we have to fuel all those great players we have in the skill positions because we have a bunch."
Hamfisted metaphors aside, Tice makes a strong point.
I suggested on Tuesday's edition of the "Dave Dameshek Football Podcast" that the Falcons might be the NFL's most improved team on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
In addition to welcoming left tackle Sam Baker back from knee surgery, Tice has added No. 6 overall pickJake Matthews at right tackle, veteran Jon Asamoah at right guard and a new center in Joe Hawley.
The defensive line underwent a complete overhaul to fit a new 3-4 base defense featuring mammoth nose tackle Paul Soliai, run-stuffer Tyson Jackson and physically gifted second-round draft pick Ra'Shede Hageman.
The Falcons will be a much tougher, brawnier, more physical team in 2014. They've devoted plenty of resources into dominating the line of scrimmage after getting pushed around last season.
*The latest "Around The League Podcast" picks their favorites for Comeback Player of the Year and takes listener calls. *