Defense shows life despite stats

In the late-night hours of Monday, New Orleans Saints interim coach Joe Vitt, a linebackers coach by trade, was asked about his team giving up more than 400 yards for an eighth straight game.

Certainly, the total yardage numbers that have been put up on the Saints this season are mind-boggling and staggering: 459, 463, 510, 421, 427, 513, 530, 447.

Forget 447 for a moment. The numbers that mattered most following Monday night’s game with the Philadelphia Eagles, the ones dancing around in Vitt’s head, were these: 13, 7, 2, 0.

  • That would be 13 points allowed, a season-low by 11 points, in a 28-13 victory over the Eagles.
  • That would be seven sacks of Michael Vick, the most recorded by the Saints in a decade and more than half of their total of 13 in the first seven games.
  • That would be two takeaways, which wasn’t a season-high but was one more than they had in their past two games.
  • That would be zero touchdowns allowed in five trips by the Eagles into the red zone, which — more than anything else — cost them a chance at a win.

It’s numbers that we haven’t seen from the Saints this season, numbers that were sorely needed to help them continue their climb back from a horrific 0-4 start.

Considering that, the 447 total yards the Eagles piled up on the Saints meant nothing at all to Vitt.

“I don’t understand about total yards,” Vitt said after being awarded a game ball in the locker room for his first win as the fill-in coach for Sean Payton. “Points against, red-zone defense, turnovers, pressure on the quarterback (are the statistics that matter).

“We were able to get that accomplished.”

The performance had media and fans alike scratching their heads wondering, tons of yards aside, why it hadn’t been seen more in the first seven games.

And, what’s more, will it cure their problems on that side of the ball in the second half of the season?

You don’t want to douse their fire, but it did come against an erratic Vick, who went into the game with 13 turnovers in seven games and was playing behind a battered offensive line that was missing multiple starters.

Whether the Saints can sustain it over the next couple of weeks, especially against the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, remains to be seen.

But Vitt said they certainly hope to build on it after getting a shot of confidence following Peyton Manning’s masterful passing performance against them a week earlier.

“That’s the fun of coaching, to try and improve and get better every week,” Vitt said. “Total yards — those are stats.

“When we won the Super Bowl (in 2009), we were 25th in the league in total defense. We forced turnovers, we gave good field position to the offense. Stats are what they are.”

In other words, it’s not what they are; it’s what you do with them that counts sometimes.