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The Bountygate scandal had a severe impact on multiple players, but Vilma was the most noteworthy among them. Originally slated to miss the entire season, the longtime Saints middle linebacker was reinstated and activated for the team's Week 8 game in Tampa Bay.
Since Vilma's return, the defense hadn't improved much as a unit until Monday night's home game against Philadelphia, where the Eagles were consistently stymied in the red zone.
That may be more of an indication of Philly's dysfunction than anything, but the Saints did allow a season-low 13 points regardless.
Such a performance should inspire confidence and give coordinator Steve Spagnuolo a boost after a slew of such nightmarish results in the first half of the year. Vilma is the unquestioned emotional leader of the defense, and the plug-in of former Atlanta Falcon Curtis Lofton couldn't replace that.
Now, the two talented linebackers share the field, with Vilma playing to Lofton's side (h/t The Sun-Herald). It worked well for at least one week and should continue to help fortify their league-worst run defense.
With Drew Brees orchestrating the lethal New Orleans passing attack, you know what you're getting from the Saints offensively. It's the defense that has prevented the team from being more prominently featured in the playoff discussion.
If the Saints keep improving and Vilma can avoid his suspension, a running game can be better established on offense. That will lead to the defense seeing less time on the field and improvement as a result.
An immediate, stern test looms at home against undefeated Atlanta on Sunday. Lofton will likely perform well facing his former team, but it will be Vilma's play that ultimately determines how effective the explosive Falcons offense can be.
It's a must-win for the Saints, and Vilma must get it done for them to have a chance at winning their fourth game out of five.