Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints made quite the statement with a win on Sunday lead by Taysom Hill. The defense, of course, played a major role as well allowing only nine points, pitching a shutout in the second half, and piling on eight sacks with a pair of interceptions. But Taysom’s performance was an impressive one if for no other reason when his ability to not give the game away.
The BYU product had a fairly Teddy Bridgewateresque performance in that he did just enough to win while doing nothing to cause the team to lose. One of my biggest curiosities going into this matchup cantered around how the Saints offense would operate with only one week of install on an offense catered to a mobile quarterback. That’s where Taysom Hill and Sean Payton really surprised me. In studying the game, not much had to be changed.
Hill did a great job running an efficient and effective offense in much the same vein as Drew Brees when it comes to style. Certainly there were some mistakes, confusion, and blunders, but overall the performance was better than expected from this aspect.
NFC South QB Ratings Week 11— Charlie Parker (R.I.P. Tyce) (@cmparker999) November 24, 2020
Taysom took 30 dropbacks in this game. Here’s the breakdown of those snaps:
- 23 passes, 18 completed for 233 yards
- Four scrambles for 19 yards and a touchdown
- Three sacks
Let’s start with what was familiar.
One of the similarities that sticks out between Hill and Brees is the completion percentage. With an 78.3% completion rate, Hill put together the team’s fourth-best mark in that statistic so far this season. On top of that, he did so in a style reminiscent of the Saints’ future Hall of Famer.
Taysom completed eight of 11 passes thrown in less than 2.5 seconds (72.7%) and averaged a snap to throw count of 2.48 seconds. Brees has been averaging 2.46 seconds throughout the season. Though just two weeks ago against San Francisco he averaged an extraordinary 2.02 seconds to throw. While Taysom didn’t let it fly that fast, he still paced the offense similarly to Brees. He held his own under pressure as well according to PFF completing 100% of his passes on six throws for 117 yards.
Shotgun vs. Under Center
In addition to concerns around the offensive line blocking longer for Hill, many were also concerned about his ability to step up to the line and take snaps under center. Usually when we see Taysom come in at quarterback, he’s back in the shotgun with Alvin Kamara (who didn’t catch a single pass in a game for the first time on Sunday) at his hip. This often sets up what we usually assume will be a read option.
However, against Atlanta Hill’s 30 dropbacks were split fairly evenly.
Shotgun: 16 plays 7/11 for 91 yards two sacks, three rushed for nine yards.
Under Center: 14 plays 11/12 for 142 yards, one sack, and a rush 10 yards and a touchdown.
These snaps do not include the six designed run plays called, but we’ll get to those in a moment.
Taysom surprised me here by being incredibly efficient and effective from under center. Again, running the offense without causing much of a shift on unfamiliarity. He has even been working over his time in New Orleans to sound like Drew Brees.
Coveted Air Yardage
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Taysom compiled an average of just 6.5 yards per throw in intended air yards. That’s fifth-fewest in the NFL for Week 11 and not far removed from Brees’ 5.6 on the season. While Hill did complete passes of 44, 15, and two of 19 air yards, he also completed seven passes behind the line of scrimmage. Yet again, success is not contingent upon air yards. Even though he has the arm to attack, or at least attempt to, Hill had no problem running this offense the way it’s used to running. He was efficient, didn’t take big risks with a just 13% aggressive throw rate, got the ball out quickly, and worked the short and intermediate areas of the field.
That brings us to the first element of Taysom’s game that actually helped to expand the offense even if not deployed to the extent many of us expected.
Tuck and Run
Listed above you can see that Taysom scrambled just four times against Atlanta. That number stands out to me immediately. Hill had 10 rushing attempts in this game with only four coming off those scrambles. When he did make the decision to run, it was deep into the snap clock averaging 5.58 seconds from snap to run per Pro Football Focus. So not only did he not force the run game, he seemed to actively avoid it. The playcalling seems to back that up as well as Sean Payton called only six designed runs for his multi-threat quarterback with five of them coming in the 4th quarter up eight or more points.
On the designed runs, Hill gained 32 yards and added another touchdown. Taysom had a 20-yard gain on one of these runs, but it was spoiled by a lost fumble. By the time the majority of those runs were called the game was all but sealed. Moreover Sean Payton nor Taysom Hill tried to shoehorn his mobile style into an overly used gimmick in the offense. Instead, Hill was able to use his feet when necessary and looked to throw otherwise.
That was a very good sign for me, as someone that wasn’t sure the full mobile rollout could be completed in just a week.
This was a huge addition to the Saints’ offense this week. Taysom took 13 play action snaps in this game. He attempted a pass on 11 and scrambled on two. He had another throw that was nullified thanks to an Erik McCoy holding penalty which negated a deep shot touchdown to Emmanuel Sanders, so it’s not included in the overall count.
40 % of Taysom's dropbacks Sunday were off of play action, via PFF. He went 9/10 for 168 yards on these plays. (Also had a 57-yard TD off of PA that was called back for holding).— Canal St. Chronicles (@SaintsCSC) November 23, 2020
Sean Payton, who usually doesn't call a ton of PA for Brees, played to his QB's strengths yesterday.
Those 13 play action dropbacks on the aforementioned 30 totaled a play action snap rate of 43.3%. That was the second-highest percentage in the NFL this week. He also had the highest PA snap share of a Saints quarterback this season by a considerable margin. In just the last few weeks, Drew Brees saw play action on just six snaps in Week 7 (15.2%), six in Week 8 (14%), and five in Week 9 (16.2%). In the second half of the Niners game, Jameis Winston saw four. Nearly as many as Brees averaged over the previous three games. Taysom far surpassed that, doubling Brees’ highest PA count over those weeks.
On those snaps, here’s how Taysom performed and where he ranked in key statistics among QBs with at least 5 PA snaps in Week 11.
Play Action Dropbacks: 9/10 throwing, 90% completion rate (1st), 168 yards (2nd), a 118.8 passer rating (10th), and two sacks
Hill also saw the second-largest leap in yards per attempt over non-play action passes and the third-highest jump in completion percentage.
Six of his 10 play action passing attempts came on seven step drops totaling 109 of his 168 play action passing yards. Consistently running that depth of dropback requires athleticism, but also provides time to see and react to the oncoming pass rush while allowing concepts to develop downfield. Hill did a great job taking advantage of these opportunities to diagnose defense and make the right call even when under pressure.
Taysom Hill did a great job in Sunday’s win to replicate what everyone was accustomed to with Drew Brees. But despite his ability to do that, Sean Payton deserves a hand for not being afraid to mix in elements unique to the 30-year-old quarterback. Elements that he has been clearly enamored with for some time. So I’m sure he’s glad the former Green Bay Packers practice squad member better than panned out. Now we’ll see how the gameplan changes heading into next week against the Denver Broncos if at all. Many said that Taysom could have actually run it more than he did against Atlanta. Perhaps we see that in Week 12, sans the fumbles, as the Saints kick off their three-game road trip beginning with a chilly contest in Mile High.
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