I hated the idea at first. My brain told me that taking the greatest quarterback,ever, off the field to put in Taysom Hill was not a good idea. Don’t get me wrong, I love quarterback run schemes. Forcing a defense have to account for your quarterback makes life infinitely more difficult for them. I loved it when all the other teams started putting other players at quarterback to run the ball. I never thought the Saints would do it.
Why take the best quarterback of all time off the field. ever? Over a decade on from the release of the “Wildcat”, Sean Payton must have felt the same way as me. Drew Brees needs to be on the field at all times. Sean, however, has adapted and the past 2 seasons has seen Taysom Hill play many more snaps at quarterback than I ever envisioned. As the 2019 regular season comes to an end we can look back and ask, “Was Taysom Hill worth it?”
Let’s start by setting the parameters. Hill is a wonderfully athletic human being who is more than good enough to be on an NFL field. That’s why we’re not going to look at his snaps at running back, tight end or receiver. He can play those positions. His blocking is superb and he can make all sorts of catches. What we are looking at is when he lines up at quarterback.
Taysom’s job is to come in, neutralize the numbers advantage back in the offense’s favor and then use his athleticism and power to create successful plays. Overall, on designed runs, Hill had a success rate of 43% (9/21). Not a terrible number but nothing to hang your hat on. If we add the times Hill dropped back to pass, his success rate bumps up to 52% (15/29). Now, we’re getting closer to the Saints success rate on Drew Brees dropbacks which is 56%.
For me on the surface, these numbers are close enough that I think it’s fine to give Hill the opportunities he’s been getting. If we dive deeper into which situations Taysom gets his opportunities to run the ball, we start to see some discrepancies.
As a runner on 3rd or 4th down (these are all short yardage except a 3rd & 6 against the Jags), Hill has 6 carries with 5 of them being successful. In all other situations, he has 15 carries with only 4 being successful. 83% as a short yardage bruiser and a lowly 26% elsewhere. You can prop up the 26% by adding his pass plays to come up to about 37%.
This is where I feel the big difference is. When taking Drew Brees off the field to power forward and gain a first down, Hill has been dynamite. To have him be a 1st or 2nd down runner and create by himself, he has not fared well.
Taysom and the Saints were able to have success on short yardage by running a crack toss play. On 4 carries on 3rd and 4th down, the crack toss produced 3 first downs and the 4th one was undone by, what I believe was, an assignment error by Michael Thomas. If you include the 1st and 2nd down carries, Hill ran crack toss 10 times and was successful on 5 times. This play was a new development for the Saints offense in 2019 and it’s simplicity made it work.
Whether there was 1 receiver or 2 to the playside, their job was to crack down on the defensive end to allow the tackle to pull around them and lead for Hill. When it works it’s beautiful. On this aforementioned 3rd and 6 against Jacksonville, the cornerback is too late to “crack-replace” and Armstead doesn’t have to block him until he’s way downfield. Austin Carr pops the end inside and Hill is running for a long time.
Here is the error by Thomas against San Francisco:
Thomas goes for the linebacker instead of the defensive end so nobody ends up blocking Bosa.
The Saints 2 other successful plays on 3rd/4th down also including pulling lineman.
Sean Payton with a nasty way to get into Counter with Taysom Hill at QB. Zach Line lines up in the slot and then the ball is snapped while he's motioning back. He's the kick out player while Nick Easton pulls to lead.— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) December 25, 2019
(Would have been a TD if Ramscyk comes off quicker) pic.twitter.com/om8cwLx17b
Where the Saint didn’t have success was the same area they had success with Hill in 2018: zone runs. Hill was only 2 for 8 running zone read in 2019.
One of the few successes was this one against the Titans:
Running the zone read with the arc block from Josh Hill worked tremendously last season but teams caught on in 2019. When it works, it’s really nice. Josh Hill becomes a lead blocker for Taysom after he meshes with Alvin Kamara.
In the passing game, I would have liked to see more explosive plays off play action. If you are going to run the ball most of the time that Hill is in the game at quarterback, the goal should be to throw it down the field. Hill’s 3 completions were for first downs for 17, 18 and 20 yards respectively. Would like to see a big touchdown throw (against the Vikings).
The question was whether Taysom Hill was worth his use as a quarterback and there’s really 2 answers. As pound it runner in short yardage, Hill kept drives alive so the answer is an unequivocal yes. In other spots, the offense didn’t gain that much of a meaningful advantage and caused the Saints to have some long yardage plays. They’d best avoid those in the playoffs.