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How Taysom Hill and the pass offense match up with the Broncos Defense

Taysom’s first start went about as well as you could’ve hoped for, but he and the Saints passing attack will be facing a tougher test this upcoming Sunday.

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

Taysom Hill and the New Orleans Saints offense exceeded a lot of people’s expectations against the Atlanta Falcons. And the area they surprised people most was through the air.

With Hill making his first career NFL start at quarterback, he averaged over eight yards per pass attempt and posted an adjusted completion percentage of 90.9%, which was third-best among 30 qualifying QBs.

As you can see in this film study (PERMALINK), he was supremely accurate in the intermediate levels of the field and overall just made sound decisions.

While Atlanta’s defense isn’t as bad as some make it out to be, the Denver Broncos defense presents an entirely different challenge. And Taysom is going to have to at the top of his game to counter-act some of the looks they will present to him.

The Broncos’ pass defense is stout from top to bottom. They’re allowing the 4th-lowest yards per pass attempt in the league this season, at 6.2. And last week vs. the Miami Dolphins, they allowed 4.4.

That game was particularly important to how they could game-plan for the Saints offense in my opinion, because it was also against a relatively new starter at QB, in Tua Tagovailoa.

They brought a lot of exotic zone blitzes, dropping edge defenders and linebackers on the line of scrimmage back into throwing lanes they normally wouldn’t dwell in.

This caused Tua to hold the ball a tick longer than he typically would as he tried to process what was happening, and that resulted in him being sacked six times.

What the Broncos also do a lot of the time is bring an extra defender and deploy a Cover 1 Man scheme out of a two-high look, while rushing five. And they’ll do it a variety of different ways.

Sometimes, they’ll just rush from a 5-down Bear front.

Then, with just an extra linebacker.

Then when you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll bring a slot corner.

The Broncos do such a good job of disguising these blitzes too. On this last one, they rotate from a two-high look to where one safety takes the blitzing slot corner’s receiver, and the other takes the deep middle of the field role.

(PIC)

Tua has his slot receiver open for a short gain in the vacated area the blitzing slot corner leaves, but I guess he gets spooked by how fast the safety is driving down on it. He comes back to the other side of the field, but no one is open, and he takes the sack.

My best advice to Taysom when he gets looks like this is to just rely on Michael Thomas. If you’re getting rushed by five, then you’ve probably got MT singled up with inside leverage, and no robber player in the middle of the field.

I’ll take my chances with him getting open quickly vs. single coverage all day long.

Hill will have to make quick decisions in this game, and protection will be key.

Even without Von Miller, this pass rush is good. Bradley Chubb is a stud, with 41 total pressures and 6.5 sacks. Shelby Harris is a top-flight interior pass rusher as well, although I’m not sure if he’ll be able to suit up after having COVID-19 recently.

Not to mention, guys like Justin Simmons and Bryce Callahan are playing really well in the secondary for Denver, and often cause QBs to hold the ball a bit longer than they’d like, allowing pressure to get home.

With it looking like Andrus Peat may not play, Cesar Ruiz and Nick Easton will have to be aware of stunts and blitzing linebackers often. Communication between them and Erik McCoy will be key in that regard. Luckily the Saints still have the best tackle duo in the league to slow pressure off the edge.

If Taysom does feel pressure often in this game, it is comforting to know how well played under it last Sunday. He was 6/6 with 117 yards while under pressure, although he did take three sacks.

Not taking negative plays and escaping the pocket for scrambles will be a determining factor in how this offense plays.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Broncos drop a QB spy on him some with their Cover 1 Man looks. And if they do that, the O line will just have to protect, and receivers need to be able to simply beat man coverage.

But if they are rushing five a lot, Hill should have ample opportunities to escape the pocket and get loose while the DBs have their backs turned in Man coverage.

When the Broncos go zone, they typically run a good bit of Quarters and Cover 6. Their Quarters is usually in long yardage situations.

They’ll often try to confuse QBs in their zone looks by bringing a backer from one side and dropping an edge defender into a throwing lane on the other, like the play below:

They’re basically trying to bait Tua into panicking and throwing that slant once he sees the blitzing LB. But what he does is important, because Taysom will need to do the same. And that’s throw behind whoever’s blitzing on early down throws before the safety can come down. It’s free yardage, if you recognize the blitz in time.

I would imagine play action passes will continue to be a staple in the Saints offense this week, after Sean Payton ran a ton for Taysom last week. It’ll be important for Taysom to take what the defense gives him on these play action drop-backs, because Denver’s linebackers are better about not biting on fakes and getting depth on their zone drops.

This is told by the numbers, as they encourage short passes off of play action so they can rally and tackle for a short gain.

The Broncos allow the fourth-lowest yards per attempt off of play action, at 7.44 YPA, according to PFF. But, they also allow a 76.8% completion rate, which ranks 25th.

Taysom had some big chunks of yardage from play action passes last week, but those opportunities may be fewer and farther between this time around.

With all the challenges and complexities this defense presents, I’d look for Taysom to take a conservative approach and maybe take off from the pocket more than he did last week.

There probably won’t be as much room for error, as in he probably won’t be able to chunk a deep ball that’s underthrown by 20 yards and have it completed. But as long as he takes care of the ball and doesn’t panic there are yards to be had, and this is a game that should be won.


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