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Saints Film Room: 5 Takeaways after a look at the tape — Including an in-depth look at Taysom Hill’s performance

The five biggest takeaways from a content-packed game against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, after studying the tape.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

There sure was a lot to take in from the New Orleans Saints’ 24-9 victory over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday afternoon.

Whether it be the crazy hype surrounding the starting of BYU-product Taysom Hill over Jameis Winston, another magnificent performance from the Saints stingy defense, or just a good, old-fashioned beat-down of the Dirty Birds — there’s a lot of stuff to pull from.

After digesting the game tape from Sunday’s win, these were my five biggest takeaways from that glorious game:

1. @Cantguardmike is Back

You really just can’t guard Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas when he’s fully healthy. I think most of us already knew this despite his unfortunate start to the season, but it was nice to see him remind us.

He caught nine of his 11 targets for 104 yards, and had only one drop, which he was pretty ticked about postgame.

But his decisive route-running and physicality was back on full display Sunday.

Take this play for example:

We all know Thomas isn’t much of a deep threat. He’s not going to burn you very often, but this play shows why it doesn’t really matter as much as some seem to think.

The Saints are running a three-man route here, and the corner, Darqueze Dennard, has outside leverage on Mike. This detail is important to keep in mind for later.

But Thomas stems inside, bluffs the vertical route, shuffles, and cuts efficiently back for for a 15-yard gain.

The detail about the outside leverage is so important because of this play earlier in the game:

Dennard once again has outside leverage, but Thomas still manages to get open on the out route by viciously swiping down his arm as he breaks. And he has such good cutting ability for a big receiver that there’s space to fit it in for a nice gain on first down.

When you’re that dangerous with a two-way cut, it matters less that you don’t run a lot of deep routes. Mike Thomas does this, and Dennard learned that real quick.

2. Coverage working together with pass rush

The Saints defense put on an absolute clinic against the Filthy Birds, as they have for the past three weeks, allowing 8.3 points per game — best in the league in that span. They’re also allowing only 4.2 yards per play, which is the second-lowest in that same period.

In this game alone, they recorded eight sacks, six pass break-ups, two interceptions and held Matt Ryan to a 54.3 completion percentage.

Behind this massive turnaround from a mediocre defense in the early portion of the season to an elite one is how well the coverage and pass-rush units are playing off of each other.

With sticky coverage by guys like Janoris Jenkins and sound over-the-top coverage by Marcus Williams, they’re causing QBs to hold the ball longer and get sacked more often.

According to Pro Football Focus, Matt Ryan held the ball for 2.84 seconds per drop-back Sunday, which was eight-highest among 30 qualifying quarterbacks last week. Taysom, for comparison, was at only 2.48 second. That may not seem like a lot of time, but when four 300-pound men are trying to eat you, it is.

Most of the eight sacks from Sunday were “coverage sacks,” where there is just no one for Ryan to get the ball to, and he eventually just gets taken to the turf.

On this play, the Saints look to be in Cover-1 Man, and Marcus Williams (who hasn’t gotten any credit lately but has been fantastic for the past 4 or 5 games) is playing the Robber role. He does a good job of scaring Ryan off of the dig route off of play-action, when he breaks on it.

This causes Ryan to go to his next two reads, which are also covered up, and he runs out of time.

This sack was made by Demario Davis on a blitz, but this was Cam Jordan’s day — who had three sacks.

He was taking full advantage of how long Ryan was holding the ball, finishing the game with five pressures and three sacks.

Janoris Jenkins also balled out, with two PBUs, one interception and only four completions allowed on 10 targets his way.

I know he had the interception, but this was my favorite play of his, driving down on the WR and batting the ball down on the curl route.

3. For the most part, Taysom was good

It feels weird saying this, but Taysom had a Drew Brees-ish game.

As you can see from his passing chart, he did his best work in the intermediate level of the field, with his one incompletion coming in the form of a rare drop by Michael Thomas.

Via NextGenStats

The first play I want to highlight is what I thought was his best throw of the afternoon.

The Falcons are in an odd Cover 2 Zone look here, with the middle-of-the-field safety creeping down to play the middle, while two low safeties drop back to play the deep halves of the field.

The Saints counter this with a “Dagger” concept, with Michael Thomas, who I’ll highlight later, running the deep dig route.

Taysom’s first read is the deep seam by Tre’Quan Smith, which is meant to clear out coverage for the dig to come under. Once he steps up, he sees the middle defender is high enough to zip it in there on the dig.

But the most impressive part of the play to me is the ball placement. It’s on an absolute rope, and it hits him on his outside shoulder, away from the safety, who’s driving down on it. Great play for a chunk gain.

This was a good design as well, as the play action comes with a pulling guard and yanks down the underneath coverage enough to create a window in that intermediate area.

This was a common theme all game, as Sean Payton was dialing up the play action more so than ever. And it was paying off.

Hill looked more than comfortable all game on play action drop-backs, stepping up in the pocket and delivering strikes.

Taysom was also doing a good job of getting through all of his reads before thinking about taking off to run, as PFF’s Seth Galina pointed out on Twitter.

While he was very cognizant of his progressions, maybe my only issue with Taysom in the game as a passer was how long it was taking him to get through them sometimes.

The deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders that didn’t get called back was a good example of this:

The Falcons are in Tampa-2 Zone, with the middle linebacker Deion Jones having to carry the deep post by Sanders deep downfield. He has a step on him early, and the safety to the short side of the field is fixated on Michael Thomas.

Taysom should be letting this rip as soon as he steps up, but he waits an extra tick to make sure the safety doesn’t run back, making it a much deeper throw.

This hesitation also allows a pass rusher time to hit his leg as he throws, which may have contributed to the ball being in the air for so long. But Sanders make a great play to bail him out.

Lateness on his reads also resulted in this near-pick in the red zone early on.

It’s good that he’s getting through his progressions though, and hopefully he can speed up his process as time goes on.

This was an overall good performance for Taysom, barring a few poor pass plays and a fumble. Overall, I thought he exceeded expectations and showed he’s capable of being a non-disastrous starting QB in the NFL.

We’ll see if he can keep it up in Denver against a good defense next week.

4. Kwon Alexander showed why they traded for him

I was quick to point out the poor plays Kwon Alexander had last Sunday, and some of you weren’t happy about it. And while I’ll repeat that he wasn’t great overall in his debut versus the 49ers, I’ll be the first to admit he looked like a stud against Atlanta.

Coverage, tackling, run defense, you name it - Kwon did it well.

He flashed his speed and explosiveness in coverage, chasing down out-breaking routes in the flat, limiting yards after the catch, and nearly pulling off a pick-six.

He was targeted three times, gave up one catch for four yards, and broke up a pass, via PFF.

And he was making plays against the run, with his unique style.

Kwon’s not a mauler in the run game, but he’s very elusive when guards try to get next level on him in the run game. He’s almost like a scat back playing linebacker, with the way he escapes linemen trying to block him.

He had three nice stops in this game. And most importantly, he missed zero tackles.

We’ll see if that level of tackling can continue, and while I have my suspicions, this was a very encouraging performance for Alexander.

5. Ruiz showing improvement, flashes in run game

Cesar Ruiz has had an up-and-down rookie season, to say the least.

He started off strong in Week 2, filling in for injured Nick Easton at right guard, then played well for a few weeks. Then starting in Week 8, he was simply getting demolished — he allowed 14 pressures and 13 hurries in Weeks 8-10. One of those hurries obviously being the one that resulted in Brees cracking damn-near his entire body.

This week, however, he got back on the right track.

He only allowed one pressure, and was moving people in the run game on occasion, including the elite Grady Jarrett.

This type of strength and mobility is why the Saints drafted the youngster out of Michigan. He recorded a 72.4 PFF run blocking grade in the game.

Here, he does a great job of crossing the 1-tech defensive tackle’s face and sealing him.

This is what we were promised when Ruiz was drafted — an athletic interior lineman who can develop into a good player long-term.

And while he’s had his struggles, it’s important to remember he’s playing out of position. Lets cut the 21-year-old some slack and see how much better he gets as time goes on. He has the potential to be a very good player.

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