Joe Vitt: Interim Coach Must Provide Defensive Help for Saints

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIOctober 21, 2012

METAIRIE, LA - MAY 24:  Interim head coach Joe Vitt of the New Orleans Saints answers question by the media after OTA's at the Saints Practice Facility on May 24, 2012 in Metairie, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

New Orleans Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt is returning from a six-game suspension to the team after Sunday's 35-28 victory in Tampa Bay. As Week 7 and the rest of the season has shown, the presence of a veteran, defensive-minded coach is just what the team desperately needs if it wants to keep its dim playoff hopes alive.

As Adam Schefter reported, Vitt met the team in the airport at Tampa, eager to rejoin the Saints. He will have to get right down to work and instill his football philosophy in the hopes that New Orleans can figure out some way to plug its leaky defense even a little.

Drew Brees and the high-flying Saints offense have done everything possible to keep the team competitive. But the defense simply has to step up, because it's been downright unacceptable.

Entering Week 7, the Saints were giving up the most yards per game in the league (456) and just under 31 points. Those numbers weren't helped against the Buccaneers, as QB Josh Freeman threw for a whopping 420 yards in a losing effort.

The fact that Brees has been able to overcome the team's defensive deficiencies to put up the numbers he has is rather staggering, considering he constantly plays from behind and is saddled with obvious passing situations. It would be frightening to see what he does against his own defense on game day.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was a hot commodity after engineering a fantastic New York Giants defense that keyed the team's Super Bowl run. He even shut down the undefeated New England Patriots in the big game.

A failed head coaching stint in St. Louis later, Spagnuolo may be finding himself out of a job with the way his unit is performing in 2012.

Blown coverages have plagued New Orleans, and picking up the concepts of Spagnuolo's system is at least partially to blame. But the Bountygate scandal seems to be taking its toll on a defense that has relied heavily on takeaways over shutting opponents down in recent years.

One luxury Spagnuolo was afforded with the Giants was an outstanding defensive line. Outside of defensive end Will Smith, who had been declining even before coming under fire in the Saints' scandal, New Orleans doesn't really have a formidable pass-rushing threat.

The loss of emotional leader Jonathan Vilma at middle linebacker was perceptibly covered by Curtis Lofton, who for years led the Atlanta Falcons defense in tackles. However, he hasn't been able to help the cause enough.

Vitt may be able to directly help Lofton, since his position of particular expertise is linebacker. The whole rest of the defense needs help too, though.

Going up against Peyton Manning, an explosive Philadelphia Eagles offense and Matt Ryan in the next three games won't make the job any easier for Vitt as he returns to the fold. It will be the truest test possible of his coaching abilities, which will already be put through the grinder coming off that six-game suspension.