Sean Payton is known for his screen plays and getting the ball in his play-makers’ hands. Over the years we have become used to seeing players like Reggie Bush, Pierre Thomas, and more recently Alvin Kamara gain huge chunks of yards on these screens. But sometimes, the best person to catch a screen is the one that is least expected.
Josh Hill has caught 3 screens this year for a total of 43 yards. Screens, inherently have a layer of deception to them, but the Saints add wrinkles that add to this level of deception.
Hill’s first reception of the year came week 1 against Tampa Bay. The Saints line up in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends), with Mike Gillislee in the backfield and Watson and Hill as the tight ends. On his play, the Saints will use play action to freeze the linebackers. Right Guard Larry Warford (#67) will “pull” as if they are running a power run play. To further sell the play action, Hill will block the defensive end momentarily before releasing into the flat. Max Unger and Ryan Ramzyck will lead block on the screen and Hill is able to break a tackle and pick up 15 yards.
Hill’s second screen came in week 2 against the Cleveland Browns. This time, the Saints will roll out their 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end). Much like the previous play, this one will feature play action as well, but this time Ted Ginn will run a jet sweep motion from right to left behind the line of scrimmage. The purpose of this motion is to make the defense flow to the opposite side of where the play will happen. One defender who is in man coverage will follow GInn, but the linebackers and safety for Cleveland do a good job at staying disciplined. The offensive line is the same as above, with Warford pulling and Unger and Ramzyck lead blocking for Hill, who is only able to gain 5 yards on this play.
The third tight end screen for Hill has the most window dressing and is possibly my favorite play design so far of this season. The Saints have their three most dangerous offensive weapons on the field—Mark Ingram in the backfield, Kamara will lineup as a receiver to the outside of a bunch formation to the right, and Michael Thomas split out to the left. This play is not much different than the one called against Cleveland, but having Kamara run the jet motion rather than Ginn presents an even bigger threat to the defense, so naturally they are more likely to flow in his direction. This flow is only aided by having Ingram in the backfield rather than Gillislee. Another subtle detail is that Thomas is split out wider here than in the previous play. This will stretch the defense further out and take players even further away from the playside. By the time Hill peels off of his block and makes the reception, he has nearly 15 yards of open space and ultimately picks up 23 yards. Another thing to note on this play is the nice block from rookie Tre’Quan Smith on the safety. Smith has been a reliable blocker in the run game so far this year and will only help him to stay on the field.
Screens are a good way to make over-aggressive defenses pay for that aggressiveness. They are also a good way at slowing down the pass rush from the opposing defense, and with the Saints facing one of the best defensive line in the NFL this weekend, we may see a few more of these tight end screens dialed up.