|Linebacker Curtis Lofton was one of the bright spots in an otherwise shaky season for the Saints defense. (US Presswire)|
Even though the Saints gave up an NFL-record 7,042 yards this season, interim coach and linebackers coach Joe Vitt said Monday the defense did not need a major overhaul.
The numbers did not tell the whole story, he insisted, adding that most of the damage was done in the first six weeks. (The Saints actually gave up a season-high-tying 530 yards to Denver in game No. 7 before the defense improved significantly in the next 10 games.)
“All you want to do as a coach is get your players and your unit better on a weekly basis,” Vitt said. “When you can do that and you see the improvement, I think that's the positive. Extreme makeover, I don't know about that. I really don't. But that's why we're in the evaluation process now. We'll make sure that we're putting the right players in the right positions to make plays.”
Vitt pointed out the Saints shut out Tampa Bay in Week 15. He said the defense played very well against Dallas in Week 16 until allowing two long passes in the final four minutes of regulation.
The slip-up Sunday against the Panthers, who gained a season-high 530 yards in their 44-38 win against New Orleans, did not cloud Vitt's view of the uptick.
“There are some guys that really have a good foundation to build off of what they did this season,” Vitt said. “Once these guys got engrained in the system, terminology, alignments, checks, all of those things, people here saw an improvement on a weekly basis.”
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The Saints finished 7-9, matching their worst record in seven years under QB Drew Brees. After losing their first four games, they climbed back to 5-5 but promptly lost three in a row to fall out of realistic playoff contention.
Was it a one-year aberration or a sign of a decline? Vitt chose the former.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That's why we wake up every morning and come to work here. The standards are high, the goals are high and the expectancy level is high. There is not a player or a coach or anybody that works in our building that is going to sleep easy tonight on 7-9. It's a great motivational tool for the offseason.”
Follow Saints reporter Guerry Smith on Twitter @CBSSaints.