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Payton’s Pet project

We talked about this today on the Football GM podcast (the Athletic), with Mike Sando (@sandonfl), but I thought I’d go a bit deeper and tell you what I saw on film after one game with Saints QB Taysom Hill at the helm in this new world of life without Drew Brees in the Big Easy.

It is no secret that Saints coach Sean Payton has taken a public stance on his belief that, Jack of all trades, QB Taysom Hill, is a full time starting quarterback in the NFL. I’m here to tell you that this feeling is not shared by many in NFL personnel departments around the league but it should also be said that- it’s why Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors- each gets to pick their own favorite. I have no agenda or horse in the race so I’ll just tell you what I saw on film after detailing what was asked of him in their win over the 3-7 Atlanta Falcons last weekend.

Hill’s numbers for the week were 18-23-233 and a QB rating of 108. Respectable for sure, especially considering it was his first NFL start. What I saw was a perfect game plan for his skill set and Payton should be credited for this. Starting with easy completions and semi roll outs to utilize his athletic ability, Payton navigated what was a soft and much maligned Falcon defense that has already got one coach fired in Atlanta, with excellent play calling. What was very evident to me was Sean’s ability to incorporate all the gadgets and “one off” plays that have made Hill a matchup nightmare on third downs or redzone opportunities in the past so as to plays to his strengths. That’s good coaching.

My questions about Hill come in the form of his lack of instincts and skills to be a drop back passer who can win from the pocket. The Saints offense vs Atlanta, reminded me of what is happening in Baltimore currently. A system that accentuates great athletic ability and the winning with your legs mentality, that made Raven QB, Lamar Jackson an NFL MVP. As we are finding out in Baltimore, it might be good enough to win some individual games vs average defenses but we are still waiting for sustained success in big games or the postseason.

What I saw with Hill is this. A physically gifted kid who can throw from point A to point B. Arm strength to drive the ball on a deep cross or curl. In baseball terms, he’s a fast ball pitcher, still experimenting with other pitches. I also saw a player who could not wait to flush from the pocket. He does not operate with calmness or poise in the pocket. Most play calls were of the one read and run if it’s not there variety or play action passes to a designated predetermined receiver. Payton did not ask him to read coverage or process what was happening downfield. In fact, in the redzone vs a zone blitz (where a defensive lineman drops and a LB rushes), in a drop back pass situation, Hill was confused and threw, what should have been an INT. His accuracy was inconsistent all day and his deep balls lacked timing and precision badly. Both his touch and trajectory are a work in progress as well. There were a couple dying quails that were really bad (that were actually caught in the game) when compared to most NFL QB’s ability to throw the long ball. Taysom’s default mechanism is to run when in doubt and let’s not forget- he’s good at this. The QB designed runs, even went as far as QB power (pulling of off side OG and OT) from a single wing-like formation and structure and running the equivalent of a QB sweep.

There is nothing wrong with any of this in strategy or execution. The Saints are very good up front and their O’line can knock people back to allow this formula to work for a short period of time, maybe even longer if they are consistently playing with the lead. I’m just not sure it's sustainable, especially vs physical defenses who are more adept at stopping the run than Atlanta was. At some point as Baltimore is finding out, you have to throw the ball from the pocket and come from behind when the game doesn’t break your way early.

Let’s face it. The Saints are on a much different level than this current version of the Falcons. This will be a tough task for a Taysom Hill lead offense long term, if it has to be gimmicky or gadget oriented. I’m of the opinion that after one game, the jury is still out on him as an NFL QB. Let’s see what Sean has in store for next week.

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