Saints defense keeps Vikings in check

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NEW ORLEANS – Defensive dominance. Those words aptly describe the performance the New Orleans Saints parlayed against an otherwise explosive offense in a 28-15 whipping of the Minnesota Vikings inside an energized Louisiana Superdome.

All the talk coming into this one centered on what Viking big-play moguls Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper and Cris Carter could do.

It never really materialized. In the recent past, Carter and Moss have owned the suspect Saints secondary, but as we have begun to see since Jim Haslett took over the reins of this team, what’s past is past.

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And the Saints secondary is anything but suspect.

Rick Venturi, longtime Saints assistant coach and secondary head man, gives great perspective to the mindset of this club, having been here through lean times and lavishness. And Sunday afternoon, his reflection again did not disappoint.

“The Vikings have been our nemesis lately,” an exhausted-looking Venturi said.

“They ruined our season last year, and they really kind of embarrassed our No. 1 unit early in the preseason. So we had a lot on the line, and I think we learned a lot from playing them the past few games.”

Consider the lesson driven home.

If the numbers are any indication, the Saints defense gets, well, an A.

But wait, didn’t Culpepper throw for 306 yards on 23-of-34 completions? Yes, but they could only manage 15 points. Didn’t Moss and Carter have nearly 150 yards receiving between them? See answer above.

Culpepper, who is about as hard to bring down as a bread truck, was sacked six times and was hurried a lot more. At 6-foot-4, 260, you simply don’t make a living out of doing that to a behemoth like him. La’Roi Glover and Darren Howard did Sunday, getting two sacks each.

Defensive end Joe Johnson, who left the contest in the third quarter with a strained right triceps, got one as well, and he hinted that it was a good feeling to be able to put the Vikes’ quarterback on the turf.

“We were looking forward to seeing him again,” Johnson said. “He probably knew it, too. But really, we just stopped the run and created pressure. Nothing complicated.”

Yep, keeping it simple. Just another day at the office for those guys, except normally you don’t strip an all-pro wide receiver of the football at the 3-yard line after he has burned you for a 53-yard catch.

Kevin Mathis did just that and Chris Oldham’s 38-yard return of a Culpepper fumble combined to give the Saints a vital 14-point swing. Yes, the Vikings got yardage in hunks, but a sign of a good defense is one that bends, but doesn’t break.

Or in Minnesota’s case, as Venturi put it, containment. “We didn’t execute the game plan perfectly, but I think we did a good job of containing the offense, which is the key. That cuts the point total and that’s how you beat a team like that.”

Venturi then summed up the pass defense perhaps better than anyone in the media can. “I thought our secondary battled with them all day.”

Battling. These new Saints seem to do an awful lot of that. They can’t afford to stop.

Richard Dark is a sportwriter for The Natchez Democrat. &160;