One of the Falcons’ main priorities this offseason was to get tougher in the trenches, a change in mentality that could be pinpointed to the 2013 season opener against the Saints.
In that game, New Orleans safety Kenny Vaccaro applied a late hit on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Although Vaccaro was penalized and later fined $7,785, Atlanta’s offensive line failed to defend their QB, who peeled himself off the Fieldturf.
Even though much time has passed — exactly seven months — Falcons owner Arthur Blank is still peeved over the group’s non-reaction.
Blank reflected on Ryan getting hit by the Saints in 2013 opener. Blank said it still bothers him that other Falcons didn't go after Vaccaro
— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) April 8, 2014
To be clear, Blank wasn’t expecting his team to put a bounty on Vaccaro — a la Gregg Williams. He did, however, admit to wanting some sort of retaliation for a play he was “really bothered” by.
“And that play really bothered me, sincerely,” Blank said, via ESPN.com. “It bothered me that none of our players, they all complained, but none of them went to the safety on the Saints and did anything.
“Not that they would start a fight, but just kind of put their finger in his chest and saying, ‘That’s not acceptable.'”
Inside the organization, Blank’s feelings were echoed by assistant general manager Scott Pioli and promptly relayed to general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
“Scott said, when he was talking at dinner one night with Thomas, he said that really bothered him when he watched that game,” Blank said. “That told him a lot about the mentality of a lot of our players. And I think with (offensive line coach) Mike Tice, and (defensive line coach) Bryan Cox and Smitty (head coach Mike Smith) supporting that, I think you’ll see a different attitude this year.”
With that fresh in mind, Blank and Dimitroff made it a point to beef up the roster during free agency, signing guard Jon Asamoah, nose tackle Paul Soliai and defensive end Tyson Jackson.
Asamoah, a 6-foot-4, 305-pound mauling run blocker, plays with the kind of mean streak that ensures Ryan’s days of fending for himself are likely over.