When he addressed the media after the regular season, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank made it clear how he felt about his team's toughness -- or lack of 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," Blank said. "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."
Defensive tackle Corey Peters, who signed a one-year contract Tuesday, understands Blank's point. He takes it as a personal challenge going into the 2014 season.
"I can't speak for anyone else but for me, and I'd say that's a fair criticism," Peters said. "When teams are having success running the ball like they had last year against us, I do take it personal. There's a few things that we need to do better, and being tougher is one of them.
"I think at times, we just didn't tackle well. That's a part of toughness. A missed tackle and a missed assignment here and there leads to big plays. I think that's what hurt us. In several games, I think we played decent run defense and gave up two long runs. And that translates to a terrible game. Like I said, we need to do a better job of tackling and that plays into toughness. That's why I would agree with [Blank's] statement."
The Falcons finished last season second to last against the run while yielding 135.8 yards per game. They made unheralded running backs such as Arizona's Andre Ellington and Tampa Bay's Bobby Rainey look like All-Pros.
In terms of Peters' role in toughening up the defense, it all depends on how he recovers from an Achilles tear. He remains on crutches and in a walking boot but hopes to shed the crutches by the end of the month. His surgery was performed by Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, the same surgeon who repaired Julio Jones' foot.
"There's no reason to believe that I won't be ready to go for the start of the season," Peters said. "I'm fully expecting myself to be able to return to form."
When healthy, the talented Peters can be a disrupting force up front. Plus, he has the desire to improve all areas of his game. He's been studying film of J.J. Watt and teammate Jonathan Babineaux this offseason.
"I'm trying to keep an eye out for different moves," Peters said. "It's a tough situation because I can actually go out and get physical reps. But a lot of it is trying to get a pure understanding of how things work and proper technique."