How well did Taysom Hill play in his first start as the Saints’ quarterback? He made enough big plays to make sure he will remain their top QB as long as Drew Brees is out — while also not making any big mistakes.
Hill did have a late lost fumble — the fifth time he’s dropped the ball this season — but otherwise did everything he needed to do to help the Saints to keep winning games minus Brees. At that point in the fourth quarter when Hill committed his turnover, Saints were in full control of their Week 11 home game, headed to their eventual 24-9 victory over the Falcons.
The Saints, who went 5-0 in Brees’ absence in 2019 because of Teddy Bridgewater, should feel confident they have found another strong sub in Hill. Although the late-week decision by Sean Payton to go with Hill over Jameis Winston was met with criticism from NFL pundits everywhere, Hill struck the right balance between playmaker and caretaker to make his offensive-mind coach prove he’s smarter than us all.
Here’s a breakdown the the mostly good and a little bad from Hill’s debut as New Orleans’ No. 1:
Taysom Hill, the passer
Hill answered the biggest question with a solid performance against the Falcons (18-of-23, 233 yards, 78.3 completion percentage, 10.1 yards per attempt, 108.9 rating). He didn’t go into full checkdown mode at all, wisely trusting wide receiver Michael Thomas to move the ball the most. He targeted Thomas 12 times, getting 9 catches for 104 yards. He also made a key shot play to Emmanuel Sanders in the second half, a 44-yard pass that exploited a typical breakdown of the Falcons’ bad secondary.
Strangely, running back Alvin Kamara, a receiving machine, was targeted only once and didn’t have a catch. Hill also threw to his tight ends only twice, getting two receptions for 25 yards combined from Jared Cook and rookie Adam Trautman. The Saints ended up running twice as many times as they passed, 36 to 18. The game script helped, with New Orleans’ defense dominating Matt Ryan and Todd Gurley to the point of not allowing a TD. With Hill leading the away, the Saints got 168 yards along with all three TDs on the ground.
Hill did struggle to get into a rhythm passing early and had some dangerous throws that could have been intercepted. He also took three sacks, despite good pass protection. Those things could become problems in a game where Hill would be called up to throw 30 or more times. With the Broncos, Falcons (again) and Eagles as the next three opponents before Brees’ potential return against the Chiefs in Week 15, Hill being forced into volume won’t be an issue.
Taysom Hill, the runner
This was expected to be Hill’s strong suit in a changeup from Brees and after a slow start with limited chances, he ended up shining with a team-high 51 yards rushing on 10 attempts, including two TDs. That more than compensated for the lone turnover he had while running. Hill has speed that rivals Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson, and picked good spots to turn on his jets and use his powerful style to his advantage.
With the threats of Kamara (13 carries, 45 yards) and Latavius Murray (12 carries, 49 yards) behind great blocking, Hill will continue to be facilitated with his designed runs and scrambles. He gives defenses something to think about that was a zero factor with Brees. Hill runs hard and fast on every play, which can make him reckless at times — see the fumble. But in general, that’s a good way to move the chains in shorter down-and-distance situations and another fine way to finish drives in the red zone.
If the Saints could draw up an ideal game plan for Hill’s touches, the Falcons game would be it. He got the call in the end over Winston for the rushing element and the fact he could be more careful with the ball when throwing it. The Saints reminded everyone they are a complete team who can lift any QB, with a reliable offensive line and versatile skill players.
Had the Falcons’ offense showed up with Ryan and made it a shootout, it would have been a lot more interesting to see how Hill would respond with more of an offensive burden on him. Maybe that passing test will come in Atlanta, where the Falcons’ offense tends to play a lot better, in Week 13.
Taysom Hill, the leader
There’s no question that another big reason that Payton loves Hill is the spark and emotional charge he gives to the team when he’s in there making plays with his arm and feet. Unlike Winston, he has good familiarity with his teammates and his passion is contagious. That was evident, with the Saints feeing off Hill’s energy on both sides of the ball.
Hill didn’t fit as the traditional choice to fill in for Brees, but given how much the Saints are paying him vs. Winston, they needed to see if can operate under center short and long-term. The Saints were confident not only in him as the next man up, but that all their men would rally well around him without Brees. They were right.