FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The dust has started to settle on the Atlanta Falcons' disappointing 2013 season.
The Falcons went from 13-3 to 4-12 in one season. It was one of the worst collapses of the post AFL-NFL merger era.
Since the NFL started seeding teams for the playoffs in 1975, there have been 98 No. 1 seeds and only three - the 2003 Raiders, 2005 Eagles and 20013 Falcons - has returned the following to season to finish in last place in their division.
After reaching the NFC Championship Game in the 2012 season, the Falcons finished tied with Tampa Bay (4-12) for last place in the NFC South this season. They will pick sixth overall in the NFL Draft in May.
"Obviously, we are disappointed with a 4-12 season," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said. "We had very high expectations from a management standpoint as well. There are a lot of changes to be made and adjustments to be made and considered."
The Falcons were already plotting a return to at least playoff status. They had a winning record in each of the five previous seasons and reached the playoffs in four.
"This is also a function of acquisitions, changes and rosters, talent and depth," Dimitroff said. "It's something that we're going to analyze at all levels. We are truly going to pare it back and peel back, whatever we need to be incredibly honest with ourselves as far as our approach as far as the decisions that I made and we made as an organization to move on from players or acquire certain players.
"We believe that we have a talented football team here and that we need to make adjustments. We will talk about those as well, but I really truly believe that we have the nucleus, the coach and the leadership to turn this around quickly."
The Falcons did finish with 11 players on injured reserve and lost the service of key players including wide receiver Roddy White, running back Steven Jackson and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon for long stretches of the season.
But the Falcons didn't want to lean on the injuries crutch.
"We faced a number of challenges as a football team and a coaching staff this year," head coach Mike Smith said. "It's very obvious that we're nowhere near the expectations that we had as a team and as organization. The responsibility for that solely goes on me. We did not have the type of season that we wanted and we're going to do everything in our power to work towards fixing that in 2014 as we recalibrate our organization."
That process started as defensive coordinator Mike Nolan received a two-year contract extension and offensive line coaches Pat Hill and Paul Dunn and defensive line coach Ray Hamilton were fired after the season.
"We didn't win the line of scrimmage in most football games," Smith said. "I thought that was a factor. Again, we're going to continue to evaluate everything from top to bottom."
Smith was happy to retain Nolan.
"All three of our coordinators are under contract for next season," Smith said. "They are very good football coaches and I'm glad that we have them under contract and will have the opportunity to work with them in the 2014 season.
"We've got to do a better job as a coaching staff. Ultimately, that's how we're judged and that's how the head coach in judges. I take full responsibility for the record this season."
--The Falcons believe that they drafted their lineman correctly, and that clearly the coaching has been the issue. But they may be open to signing line players in free agency.
"As we all know, there are two ways to acquire and that's through free agency and the draft," Dimitroff said. "Both sides of the spectrum offer valuable potential additions. It's something that we are going to look heavily at on both sides."
The Falcons gave up 44 sacks and 100 quarterback hits in 2013.
"We need to get back to making sure that we protect the guy (Matt Ryan) that we've made a heavy investment in and we believe he is the guy that is going to take us to where we want to do," Dimitroff said. "It's very important that we have that, as I've mentioned in other years, we believe it, to make sure that we have that solid front in front of him to protect him."
The Falcons have tried to build the offensive line through the draft.
"That's been our approach because we believe that you do not necessarily have to go extremely high in the draft to acquire, because that's a position where you're going to continue to develop your football players," Dimitroff said. "As far as looking back on how we approached it, we wanted to put the right people around Matt offensively."
--Dimitroff admitted that there was a major miss-assessment of the revamping of the offensive line as the Falcons attempted to replace three starters in 2013.
"I believe where things went awry offensive line-wise is more of the missed assessment on the readiness of the offensive line to play together as a unit," Dimitroff said. "I've thought over and over how I could summarize that and that's what I came up with."
The Falcons attempted to replace center Todd McClure with Peter Konz, had to settle for Garrett Reynolds at right guard and Lamar Holmes at right tackle after releasing Tyson Clabo.
Konz and Reynolds struggled, while Holmes had to move over to left tackle after Sam Baker was placed on injured reserve.
"Individually, we have some players that are developing along the offensive line that we think have up-side," Dimitroff said. "Some were challenged more than others this year. Some played at times well. Other times they struggled. We are going to do all in our power to correct that at many levels."
--Tackling was also a factor in the Falcons' fall. They missed 126 tackles, an averaged 7.8 per game, according to profootballfocus.com. Safety William Moore (17), defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (12), linebacker Paul Worrilow (12), linebacker Joplo Bartu (12), free safety Thomas DeCoud (12) and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (11) were missed tackler leaders for the Falcons.
The shoddy tackling and the meek pass rush led to big plays. The Falcons gave up six rushes for 40 yards or more, which ranked second in the league. They gave up 14 rushes for 20 yards or more, which ranked 7th.
The allowed 17 pass plays of 40 yards or more, which ranked first in the league. They also gave up 52 pass plays for 20 yards or more, which ranked 15th in the league.
"As I said many times as the season wore on, there was one thing that we did consistently and that was play inconsistently," Smith said. "We didn't play well offensively, defensively, special teams or coaching. The markers that you look at that are important, we didn't hit those goals."