It’s really hard to take much away from Sunday’s 31-3 rout over the Denver Broncos for the New Orleans Saints. They went up against a practice squad receiver playing quarterback, and Sean Payton responded by going completely run-centric for the duration of the game. But one thing is abundantly clear: Taysom Hill doesn’t trust his arm yet.
There were actually a lot of factors working against him on Sunday. The ball was mostly out of his hands, Pro Bowl left tackle Terron Armstead was a scratch late in the week due to COVID-19, and the Broncos defense isn’t the Falcons. However, there are certain things Hill can work on.
One of those things is getting the ball out and trusting his receivers to make plays.
This play was an early example. In the first quarter, faced with third and 12, the Saints run a levels combat to counter the Broncos’ zone defense. Everyone on the Bronco defense is facing forward, which means Tre’Quan Smith will have a chance to sneak out behind the Broncos linebackers.
Here is where Hill needs to get better. The yellow indicates his line of sight, the red indicates the linebacker, and the green indicates the best path for the ball. It’s perfectly reasonable to want to check down on third and 12, and even if Hill makes this throw to Smith he might not get the first, but you need to give him a chance. Hill has been struggling when he has to come off of his reads, and he doesn’t have the pocket presence to climb it yet to buy himself some time.
While it doesn’t look great in the All-22, it actually looks a bit worse from the QB view.
Even if he couldn’t wait out Smith getting open, there need to be decisions made on this play. Either tuck it and run, or make a throw. The double clutch from Hill is him doubting himself on this play, because he took slightly too long to read a defense. That will come with time, but the Saints are playing for too much right now to wait for these types of plays to come to him.
Hill’s second sack taken wasn’t really his fault, as Cesar Ruiz got turned around by a stunt, but the third is worth taking a look at. This is a pretty low-stakes second and 10, and the Saints are just trying to put themselves ahead of the sticks. Michael Thomas is going to run a sit route from the slot, while Adam Trautman drags across the middle.
Hill has Thomas for a positive play, and Thomas is out of his break looking for the ball. The Broncos are playing a three-deep coverage, and if nothing else Thomas can put the Saints in a third and 6 or third and 5 situation. Rather than hitting Thomas, however, Hill clutches and ends up in this situation:
No QB wants to end up swallowed up by the pocket like this. He might have an outlet to his right here, but he’s not going to see anything like this, and it certainly isn’t going to go anywhere if he does.
Hill eventually loses the ball and thankfully recovers it, but the Saints are once again in third and long.
Once again, you can see the moment he gets happy feet from view behind the line.
This isn’t really a reason for Saints fans to be alarmed. A lot of these are the growing pains of a young quarterback who hasn’t quite figured out how to play the position at the pro level yet, and a quarterback who was learning the tendencies of his line. But that doesn’t change the fact that Hill doesn’t seem to be confident throwing the ball right now. He’s more than happy to tuck it and go down, or try to run.
Payton is clearly being very patient with Hill, and he’s letting him work things out at his own pace. He’s had that luxury, as the Saints defense has been absolutely stonewalling opponents. Drew Brees has stated that he’s targeting a return against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 15. That may not be completely realistic, but for the Saints’ sake it may have to be.
Hill will likely get better, and Payton will undoubtedly continue to figure him out. But the Saints are going out of their way to make his job as easy as possible right now by keeping the ball out of his hands, and putting him in situations where he’s comfortable. If Hill continues to make his life more difficult, as he does on these plays, the Saints may find it harder to keep up with better competition moving forward.
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