Tag Archives: Taysom Hill

The Taysom Hill Experience

Taysom Hill might have completed the pass had he thrown it.

The Falcon zone defense was quite deep, and Michael Thomas did have a bit of room to roam underneath it.  The pass in this situation might have worked.  It is, however, unlikely that it would have worked as well.

The game between Atlanta and New Orleans was still scoreless about midway through the first quarter.  Hill and the Saints were on their own 42, facing a first and ten.  Thomas, aligned wide right, was the only receiver to that side, and as he curled his route back over the deep middle, AJ Terrell (the corner responsible for the deep right sideline) strayed from his area of responsibility, following Thomas, but at a distance.  When safety Keanu Neal – responsible for the underneath zone – declined to cover that particular area to stay close on Latavius Murray, the right sideline was suddenly as deserted as an airplane during a pandemic.

Hill pulled the ball down and zipped down that sideline.  Forty-three yards later, Taysom was at the Atlanta 15.  On the next play, he threw his first-ever NFL touchdown pass, and the Saints were off and running.

By the way, as he reached the 15 and Terrell finally caught up with him, Hill did not lower his shoulder and run through him – as we are all used to seeing.  He demurely stepped out of bounds.  Apparently, nothing raises your awareness of your own mortality like becoming the starting quarterback.  This was a constant throughout the game – Taysom avoiding taking unnecessary hits.

Now there is 4:51 left in the second quarter. The Falcons are hanging in there – the score is now 7-6.  The Saints are first-and-ten on their own 25.  This time Alvin Kamara would probe that same sideline.

The Falcons were in man coverage.  With the Saints sending no receiver wide right, Terrell moved inside to line up over Tre’Quan Smith.  He was the right-most receiver and aligned tight to the formation.  At the snap, Smith turned into a blocker – and his technique is better than you would expect – and expertly steered Terrell out of the play, while right tackle Ryan Ramczyk set the edge by shoving end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner inside.  Coming in motion toward the right side, tight end Jared Cook brought defender Foyesade Oluokun with him, but he didn’t block him.  At the snap Oluokun sprinted into the backfield – a potential disruption.

But Kamara cut his run up inside of Foyesade and had only green in front of him.  Thirty-seven yards later he was dragged down on the Falcon 38.  Six plays later Taysom threw his second career touchdown, increasing the Saint lead to 14-6.

Facing off against their division rivals for the second time in three weeks, the Falcons made a much better show of this one.  But the Saints held them at bay in a 21-16 victory (gamebook) (summary), and these two gashing runs down an undefended sideline were arguably the difference in the game.

They also accounted for 80 of the 207 rushing yards that the Saints pinned on a Falcon defense that entered the week ranked sixth against the run (allowing 100.3 rushing yards a game).

The Saint offense has unquestionably been different (as you would expect) after the injury to the incomparable Drew Brees.  Through their first nine games, New Orleans averaged 34.9 passes per (with a 108.4 passer rating) and 29.6 rushes (averaging 120.8 yards per game and 4.1 per carry).

Over their last three contests (all wins) with Hill behind center, the number of pass attempts per game has dropped by about ten (to 25.3) – and the effectiveness of the passing game has regressed a bit too – again, as you might expect (although the passer rating is still a very solid 91.4).  The running game (also as anticipated) has spiked notably.

Here, though, it’s the magnitude of the spike in the running game that calls attention to itself.  In games against teams that were expecting the Saints to try to run the ball, New Orleans has averaged 38.7 rushing attempts and 200.7 rushing yards per game.  Since Hill took over, New Orleans is averaging 5.2 yards per rush.

Now, a couple of caveats.  First, of course, a three game sample is quite a small sample size under any circumstances.  Second, the biggest running day of the small sample size (the 229 yards they rung up on Denver) came in a game where the opposing Broncos didn’t have any of their quarterbacks available and couldn’t keep their offense on the field.  I am also not anywhere hinting that the New Orleans offense is better without Brees.  Without question, once Drew is healthy enough to return, all of New Orleans will celebrate his return.

What I am suggesting, though, is this little stretch of Neanderthalish games (here is one of the posts that explain my use of this term) could very well have long term benefits for New Orleans.

The first and most obvious is allowing Taysom to find a comfort zone operating as an actual quarterback, but the benefits trickle down to the offensive linemen as well, who get to spend about a month of their season doing more hitting than being hit.  The Saints were always a confident offense.  Now when Brees comes back, he will have the benefit of an offensive line and a running game operating at its peak efficiency.  Clearly a team that runs the ball a lot does it better and with more conviction than a team that only runs occasionally as a change-up off its passing game.

There will likely be some down-the-road benefit for Brees, himself.  The legendary 41-year-old quarterback will almost certainly benefit from a month away from the wear-and-tear on his body.  This little mid-season vacation increases the likelihood of having Drew healthy and strong come playoff time.

And then there’s Alvin Kamara.

Hill, himself, has been the biggest influence on the rushing numbers.  Taysom has averaged 58.7 rushing yards as the starting quarterback, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and rushing for 4 touchdowns in the three games.  But as Hill’s comfort with the offense grows, Kamara is increasingly coming into play.

Fantasy owners, of course, will bemoan Alvin’s disappearance from the passing game.  The running back who averaged 72 receiving yards a game in Brees’ offense has 3 catches for 7 yards total over the last three games.  But Alvin Kamara, the running back, has become more visible in each game that Hill has started.

After starting with just 45 rushing yardage in the first game against the Falcons, Alvin’s rush yardage increased to 54 yards against the Broncos.  Sunday against Atlanta, his 88 rush yards represented a season high, and his most since he ran for 97 yards in the first game of the 2019 season.

Kamara and Hill (who ran for 83 yards of his own), could become a compelling one-two running punch, as both are exceedingly proficient running either outside or inside.  While each broke long outside runs, both also made meaningful contributions running between the tackles.

Taysom still takes the bulk of the third- and fourth-and-short runs.  He converted two fourth-and-ones into first downs.  Meanwhile, Kamara delivered New Orleans’ final touchdown on two inside runs that covered a total of 21 yards – with a large assist from an increasingly in sync offensive line.

After a 10 yard pass from Hill to Jared Cook converted a third-and-seven, New Orleans was set up on the Falcon 21 with 9:43 left in the third.  The Saints were clinging to a 14-9 lead.

Left tackle James Hurst turned out Atlanta end-rusher Charles Harris, while the double-team block of center Erik McCoy and left guard Andrus Peat swept defensive tackle Tyeler Davison off to the left like a snow-plow clearing a street. After disposing with Davison, McCoy came off the double-team block and picked up linebacker Deion Jones.  As Kamara burst into the hole, the three of them stood in a tight line like a barrier reef – all sustaining these blocks and providing an impenetrable seal to the left.

The seal to the right came courtesy of right guard Nick Easton (who stuffed Grady Jarrett at the line) and tight end Josh Hill (who had no linemen to contend with as he led through the opening and took out safety Keanu Neal.

When they were all finished, Alvin looked up and saw a four-lane green highway stretched almost ten yards before him, with safety Ricardo Allen waiting at the end.  With Allen back on his heels, Kamara charged toward him, then spun away from him back inside where he earned the final few yards of the run.

On the next play, Alvin had the pleasure of charging through another gaping hole.

This time Taysom turned to the inside to make the handoff to Kamara.  That, along with Josh Hill’s pulling action toward the right gave the strong impression that the Saints were going to run around that inviting right end again.  It was enough to get almost the entire defense heading in that direction, leaving them virtually out of position when Alvin instead darted right into the same crease he travelled on the play before.

Jarrett’s initial movement to his left helped to perfectly set up Peat’s block on him.  The only two defenders left back on the left side were linebacker Oluokun (who was blocked out of the play by Hurst) and defensive back Isaiah Oliver (who was picked up by Tre’Quan Smith).  Smith is one of those small, fast receivers.  But as a blocker in the running game, Tre’Quan is very decisive and employs his small frame to its optimal effect.

Again, Alvin was running toward the goal line with no one before him – except Allen, again.  Ricardo, waiting at the goal line, decided that passively waiting on Alvin wasn’t necessarily a productive strategy.  So this time it was Allen who made the first move, diving for Kamara’s legs.  In one of the more athletic touchdowns of the week, Kamara managed to twist off the attempted tackle and spin himself through the air for the final two yards for the touchdown that represented the final margin of victory.

The date of Drew Brees’ return to the lineup is still unknown.  Very quickly the Saints’ season will get more difficult.  The hope is that Drew will be ready to take on the Chiefs when they come to call in Week 15, with the Vikings set to visit the week after that.

In the meantime, the Taysom Hill summer will probably get one more week against a down-trodden Eagle team in Philadelphia.  For however long it lasts, this has been an interesting and most informative stretch of the season, as Saints’ coach Sean Payton gets a close look at the guy he has speculated about replacing Brees “one day.”  I also believe that playing a different style of offense for these few weeks will have long-term benefits for the Saints.

But only if Taysom delivers all of the victories.

The T. Hills are Alive

Perhaps you’ve noticed that T. Hill is beginning to be a frequently recurring entry into NFL line scores and summaries. Suddenly, it seems there are T. Hills everywhere.

In New Orleans, T. Hill is, of course, Taysom Hill – interim quarterback who has passed and rushed the Saints to three consecutive victories in Drew Brees’ absence.

The Rams have a T. Hill of their own.  That would be defensive back Troy Hill.  Troy’s statistical impact was rather muted last night – he had one tackle and one pass defensed – but he had made a bit of a splash as he had scored defensive touchdowns in each of the previous two games (a fumble returned against San Francisco and a pick-six against Arizona).

There is also a Trysten Hill, who plays defensive line for Dallas.  You won’t be hearing much about him for the foreseeable future, as a knee injury has kept him on injured reserve since Week Five.

The king of the T. Hill, if you will, plays in Kansas City.  That would be receiver extraordinaire Tyreek Hill – arguably football’s most feared offensive threat.  Tyreek had an eventfully “uneventful” game last Sunday.  He finished his team’s conquest of Denver officially with 6 catches for 58 yards (and another 30 yards on a rush).  Unofficially, Tyreek caught two long touchdown passes that didn’t count.

Early in the second-quarter, a would-have-been 40-yard touchdown pass deflected off Tyreek’s hands up in the air.  The ball actually landed back in his arms and, although ruled incomplete on the field, would have been over-ruled to touchdown if KC had challenged.

With 10:16 to go in the fourth, Tyreek slipped in behind the defense to haul in a 48-yard touchdown pass.  But this one was nullified by a penalty.

Ah, well.  When your team wins anyway, it’s easy to laugh about, right?

Road Teams Advance in NFC

About five and a half minutes.

The Philadelphia Eagles seemed to be playoff longshots through Week 13.  Coming off their Week 10 bye, the Eagles lost three in a row – the last to the Miami Dolphins.  At that point they sat at 5-7 for the season, but still only one game behind their division rivals from Dallas.  Since one of Dallas’ six wins was a 37-10 clobbering of Philadelphia in Week Seven, Dallas’ lead was really two games with four games left.

To that point, the Cowboys were also 4-0 in the division, and held that tie-breaker as well (the Eagles were 1-1).

Philadelphia’s one ace in the hole was that their Week 16 re-match would be in Philadelphia, but in reality they knew that they would have to win out – including the Dallas game – and the Cowboys would have to drop a winnable game somewhere in these last four contests.

Other than Dallas (and perhaps including the Cowboys), the Eagles’ closing schedule wasn’t all that formidable – two games against the Giants and one against the Redskins.  But Dallas’ remaining schedule was also a little soft.  In addition to the Eagles, Dallas had the Bears, Rams and Redskins.

But a Week 14 loss to Chicago completed Dallas’ own three-game losing streak, and put the division clearly on the line in Philadelphia three days before Christmas.  The game wasn’t necessarily an artistic success, but the defense rose to the occasion, closing down Dallas’ running game and sending the Eagles on to the playoffs with a 17-9 victory (a curiously recurring score for the Eagles this year).

And so, three days into the new year, the improbable Eagles were hosting a playoff game.  After all the sound and fury of the chase, their opportunity to advance more-or-less evaporated about five and a half minutes into the game.

The Injury

Beginning their second series on their own 25 with 9:41 left in the first quarter, quarterback Carson Wentz play-faked to running back Miles Sanders and dropped back into the pocket.  But none of his receivers managed any early separation, and as the pocket began to crumble, Carson rolled to his right.  Seeing the movement, cornerback Bradley McDougald came crashing down on Wentz.

Realizing he wouldn’t have time to throw this pass, Carson pulled the ball back down and tried to duck inside of McDougald (taking a step back toward the rush).  Bradley didn’t miss the tackle, tripping Carson up while he was trying to get by him.  As Wentz began to go down, Jadeveon Clowney – in pursuit – was leaving his feet (also trying to bring Wentz down).  Clowney would tumble over Wentz in what appeared to be a harmless contact.  Chris and Al – calling the game on NBC – cut away to show a replay of the field goal attempt that Philadelphia had just blocked.  Meanwhile Wentz finished out the series, gaining a first down and moving Philly as far as their own 36-yard line before they were compelled to punt the ball away.

The Eagles have been in the playoffs, now, for three consecutive seasons – winning it all two seasons ago.  In both of the previous two years, Wentz could only watch from the sidelines.  Finally, Carson (Philly’s franchise quarterback) was making his playoff debut.  And after two series, it was over.  On the play in question, Clowney’s helmet collided with the back of Wentz’ helmet, driving his head forward into the turf.

And just like that, the Eagles were playing playoff football again with their backup quarterback.  This time, though, it wasn’t Nick Foles (who had gone 4-1 in the previous two playoff runs).  Nick had moved on to Jacksonville.  The season now belonged to 40-year-old Josh McCown (who was also making his playoff debut).  In his seventeenth season – mostly as a backup – Josh brought a 23-53 record as a starter, along with a 79.7 career passer rating into the contest.

The Attrition Bowl

If you were going to predict that an injury would play a critical part in any of the wildcard games, you might have expected it would be this one.  Seattle came into the contest missing – among others – all of their top three running backs, two starting offensive linemen, and a starting linebacker.

The Eagles also were missing two starting offensive linemen, and all of their playmaking wide receivers (DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor).  Starting running back Jordan Howard dressed for the game, but never saw the field.

Whoever would walk away from this one, would go limping into the division round.  And, although they were mostly outplayed by Philadelphia, that team – thanks mostly to Wentz’ injury – will be Seattle.


It’s difficult to pin this defeat on Josh, who came off the bench and did better than anyone could have expected.  McCown was 12 for 15 in the second half, throwing for 147 yards.  He looked as good throwing the ball as the numbers suggest, and brought the home crowd to its feet with an 11-yard first-down scramble in the first half.  His passer rating for that second half was 109.6 – arguably as much as they might have expected from Wentz.

Behind Josh in the second half, the Eagles chewed up 195 yards of offense and 13 first downs.  They controlled the ball for 19:13.

At the same time, though, they were 1-5 on third down, 0-2 on fourth down, and 0-3 in the red zone.  They also turned the ball over on downs just outside of the red zone on their next to last possession.  McCown played admirably.  It is, however, reasonable to expect that Carson would have coped better on third and fourth downs and in the red zone.  On Philly’s last offensive play of the season, McCown saw a clear rushing lane to the end zone (by the way, he has 13 career rushing touchdowns).  But at 40 years old, McCown couldn’t navigate those last 10 yards.

In a one-score game, all Philly would have needed was one play from Carson.

That score – by the way – was 17-9, the same score they beat Dallas by, and the same score they lost to Seattle by the first time these two teams met (gamebook) (summary).

For the Eagles, it was a frustrating end to a difficult season.  It seems they have spent the last two seasons paying for the good fortune of 2017.  They will take some positives into the offseason – particularly their defense.  After finishing the season tenth overall and third against the run, the Eagles mostly dominated the Seattle offense – especially the running game.

Seattle came into the game just behind the Ravens, 49ers and Titans in rushing yards.  The final numbers (64 yards on 26 rushes) don’t begin to tell the story.  Forty of those yards came on two long scrambles from quarterback Russell Wilson.  Subtract those, and Seattle’s other 24 running plays totaled 24 yards.

Seahawk Issues

It’s difficult to say that the missing running backs were much of an issue, as Travis Homer and recently re-signed Marshawn Lynch were barely able to take the hand-off before they encountered Eagle defenders.  The yards-before-contact for each tell a decisive story.  Homer managed -3 yards for the night before contact.  Lynch had it even worse at -5.

Defensive lineman supreme Fletcher Cox was the most un-blockable of the Eagle front seven, but all of them had a hand in abusing Seattle’s offensive line.  This might have been the worst performance ever by an offensive line for a team that won a playoff game.  This battered line will now travel into Green Bay where they might expect similar treatment at the hands of the Packers’ Za’Darious Smith, who has been nearly untouchable over the season’s last few weeks.

If that isn’t enough of a concern, the Hawks also fly to Green Bay saddled with the leakiest defense of any team left in the playoffs after having given up 398 points during the season.  They have allowed more points this season than Houston has scored.  Ranked twenty-second against the run, they gave another 120 to the Eagles. From time to time, the Packers have been a running team, so that will interest them.  And when Aaron Rodgers wants to throw the ball, he will undoubtedly target Tre Flowers – like everyone else has.

On Sunday evening, Seattle was flagged for 11 penalties, costing them 114 yards.  Mostly these were two pass interference penalties against Flowers and multiple holding penalties by various offensive linemen trying to keep Cox out of their backfield.

As much as any team out there, the Seahawks are a team that finds a way – usually getting just enough magic out of Russell Wilson to squeak by.  But they will be going into Green Bay with significant concerns.

Defense Undoes Saints

Statistically, the Saints finished the 2019 regular season in about the middle of the pack defensively – they were eleventh over-all and thirteenth in points allowed.  They profited significantly from playing in a division of mostly offensively challenged teams.  When matched against quality offenses, they didn’t perform nearly as well.

They allowed more than 20 points 9 times, including giving 31 to Carolina in Week 12, and 48 to San Francisco in Week 14.  They also allowed six passer ratings of over 100, and allowed more than 140 rushing yards on four other occasions – two of them in the last 4 weeks of the season.  This includes a game where Tennessee piled up 149 yards without Derrick Henry in the lineup.

The Minnesota Vikings were a fairly average offense in 2019 – they ranked sixteenth.  They were eighth in scoring – principally thanks to a defense that provided them 31 takeaways.  And they ranked sixth rushing the football – averaging 133.3 yards per game.

Against New Orleans, the Vikings put up 106 rushing yards by halftime, and quarterback Kirk Cousins averaged 12.74 yards per completed pass against them.  He put the dagger in the Saints’ season with a 43-yard chuck to Adam Thielen in overtime that set Minnesota up at the two-yard line.  In a situation where they just needed to keep the Vikings from reaching the end zone, Minnesota moved 75 yards in 9 plays to end New Orleans 26-20 (gamebook) (summary).

The Vikings have shown some vulnerability against the run this year.  They have allowed 140 or more yards five time – including three games allowing more than 150 – all of those over their last five games of the season.

But New Orleans could never get a running game going and had difficulty keeping ends Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen off of Drew Brees’ back.  For all of this, though, the Saints had every opportunity to win this game.  They made a few mistakes, but made them at the worst possible times.

Mistakes, Big and Small

The Vikings had just closed to 10-6 on a field goal with 2:54 left in the first half.  Starting on their own 24, the Saints faced a third-and-six from their twenty-eight, with still 2:18 left in the half.  They also had all of their time outs.

So patient all year, Brees suddenly got impatient and floated up a deep pass to a double-covered Ted Ginn.  With help over the top, Anthony Harris undercut the route and picked the pass, bringing it all the way back to the Saint 45.

One minute and forty seconds later, Dalvin Cook sliced through the middle of the Saint line for the touchdown that gave Minnesota the lead.

But the Saints would get a golden opportunity to tie the game before the half when electric kick returner Deonte Harris brought the ensuing kickoff back 54 yards to the Viking 45 with still 12 seconds (and two timeouts) left.

A 20-yard shot to Michael Thomas gave the almost automatic Wil Lutz a shot at a 43-yarder.  But Lutz punched the ball wide right, and New Orleans went into the locker room with a 13-10 deficit.

Fast forward to the third quarter, Vikings now ahead 20-10.  With 2:08 left in the quarter, the Saints faced a fourth-and-three from their own 35 and sent the punting unit out to the field.

But it was a fake.  The irrepressible Taysom Hill took the direct snap and plowed forward for the first down.  All for naught, though.  The play was stopped for a false start called on Josh Hill.

Moving forward to the fourth quarter.  The Saints have pulled to within 20-17.  There are four and a half minutes left in the game.  Again the momentum maker is Taysom Hill, whose 28-yard burst up the sideline brought the Superdome crowd to its feet and left New Orleans with a first-and-ten from the Viking 20-yard line.

On the very next play, Hunter stripped the ball away from Brees and the drive abruptly ended.  It was Drew’s only fumble of the entire season.

The Vikings played one of their best games of the season, and will advance to San Francisco on Saturday.  The Saints will start to look toward next season.  For the third straight season they have been ousted from the playoffs under agonizing circumstances.

The Vikings will be underdogs again against the 49ers.  San Francisco, of course, has precious little playoff experience among their young roster, and have seen their defense slip a bit over the last few weeks of the season.  So you never know.

About This Hill Guy

Here were New Orleans four longest plays of the game:

1 – A fifty yard pass from Taysom Hill to Deonte Harris that set up the Saint’s first touchdown of the day.

2 – Taysom Hill runs 28 yards around left end – an electrifying run during which Hill shook off would-be tacklers like so many rag dolls.

3 – Drew Brees throws 20 yards to Thomas to set up the missed field goal at the half.

4 – Drew Brees throws a 20-yard touchdown pass to Taysom Hill, cutting the Viking lead to 20-17 in the fourth.

To this point, Taysom has been an appendage to the Saint offense – a kind of change of pace, brought in mostly to run for a first down on third and short – which he does very well, by the way.  He was on the field for only 41% of the New Orleans offensive plays.

The Saints in 2020 may look fairly different than they did this season.  I will make one bold prediction for them.  Mr. Hill – on the heels of his dynamic performance in this game – will begin to be a regular feature of the offense.  This can only be good news for those of us who watch the Saints on a regular basis.

Falcons Can’t Finish

Sunday, February 5, 2017.  Super Bowl LI (51).  I can’t think of the Atlanta Falcons anymore without recalling that evening.

About halfway through the third quarter, a six-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Tevin Coleman pushed Atlanta’s lead to 28-3.  Taking nothing away from New England’s remarkable comeback, the fact remains that Atlanta – with the championship within their grasp – couldn’t finish.

In last year’s Divisional Round game, Atlanta failed to score in the second half, becoming a footnote in Philadelphia’s remarkable run to the championship.

Last Sunday, Atlanta fell to New Orleans, 31-17 (gamebook) (box score).  The loss – their third straight – leaves their record at 4-7 and their playoff hopes on life support.

All throughout this mystifying season, the Falcons have been close.  As they were close to winning it all a couple of years ago.  But finishing remains elusive.  They were within one score of the defending champions in the season opening game, but lost 18-12.  They have also lost by one score to New Orleans (43-37 in overtime in Week Three), Cincinnati (37-36 in Week Four), and Dallas (22-19 in Week Eleven). The losses to New Orleans (the first one), Cincinnati and Dallas were all at home.

This, of course, was not a one-score loss.  Still, it falls into the familiar pattern.  Eleven-and-a-half point underdogs coming into the game, the 4-6 Falcons gave the once-beaten Saints all they could handle, outgaining them 366 yards to 312, while controlling the clock for 30:59.

In the end, though, they couldn’t finish.

Driving all the way to the Saint 3-yard lineon their first possession, they coughed the ball up on a sack-fumble – the first of six sacks and four turnovers on the day.  That pretty much told story.  After a rare interception of Drew Brees, Atlanta had the ball on the New Orleans 39, still trailing 7-0.  Moments later they had a second-and-6 on the Saints’ 7-yard line.  Another sack forced them to settle for a field goal.  By the time the first half ended, Atlanta was down 17-3 and playing catchup.

The loss not only casts a shadow over the Falcon playoff hopes, but also diminished several good things that the Falcons did accomplish during the contest.  After his first-half difficulties, Matt Ryan did throw 2 second half touchdown passes, on his way to 377 passing yards.  Moreover, both Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley had 80+ receiving yards in the second half – part of a second half that saw Atlanta control the clock for 18:30 and outgain the Saints 221 yards to 109.

At 4-7, the Falcons are pretty much under the necessity to win all of their remaining games.  It’s a tall order, as those games include road games in Green Bay, Carolina and Tampa Bay.  Next week’s home game against Baltimore won’t come easily either – although they will have the luxury of playing against a backup quarterback.

Worth noting – I thought – in the loss was the improvement in the Atlanta defense.  Yes, I know that the numbers weren’t all that amazing.  Before the game was over, they had allowed 4 touchdowns, 31 points, and 312 yards – 150 of them on the ground.

But remember, please, that this was the New Orleans offense.  They came in not only as the highest scoring offense in the league, but having scored 144 points over their last three games while racking up 1542 total yards.

In spite of their inability to cope with New Orleans’ running game, the Falcons were able – to a great extent – to make the Saints passing game crawl.  Brees had only two completions more than 20 yards downfield, and only 3 for greater than 15 yards.  This – along with the first interception tossed by the league leader in passer rating since Week 8, and the first sack against him since Week 7 – made this victory more difficult than most – and certainly more difficult than you would have expected against Atlanta – who came into the game with the twenty-ninth ranked pass defense.

In trying to take away the deep pass, Atlanta played some zone defense – still not their strength.  Most of Drew’s short completions came against Atlanta’s soft zones.  But, more and more, Atlanta started playing man coverage against this high-octane passing attack.  They did all this well enough to hold top receiver Michael Thomas to 4 catches for 38 yards, and Alvin Kamara to one catch for 9 yards.

Conceptually, they covered Kamara with a defensive back, and double covered Thomas.  This is an approach tried with some frequency against New Orleans, but few opponents can make it work.  At times, the Falcon defense vaguely resembled the Super Bowl defense of a few years ago.  Some of the coverage schemes were quite inventive.  On one third quarter pass, Atlanta ran what looked like a defensive read-option double team of Thomas.

Still up 17-3, New Orleans faced third-and-5 from the Falcon 43.  There were 11 minutes and 19 seconds left in the quarter.  The Saints lined up with three wide receivers to the right side (Tommylee Lewis, Thomas and Keith Kirkwood).  Tight end Josh Hill was tight to the left of the formation, with Kamara in the backfield to Brees’ left.

The Falcons answered with a man-look with Brian Poole lining up opposite Lewis, Desmond Trufant in position to bump Thomas off the line, and Robert Alford across from Kirkwood.  On the other side, De’Vondre Campbell had Hill and cornerback Isaiah Oliver had Kamara.  In the middle of the field stood safety Sharrod Neasman – perhaps keeping an eye on Brees should he try to run for the first down, or potentially a double cover for Hill.

At the snap, though, when Thomas initially broke to the outside, Alford went with him, forming a double-team with Trufant on Thomas.  Meanwhile, Neasman took Kirkwood’s in-breaking route.  Presumably, had Thomas broken to the inside, Neasman would have been a part of that double-team, while Alford would have gone with Kirkwood.

True to the way this game played out, after his initial outside step, Thomas broke back inside, causing a moment of indecision on Alford’s part.  That was enough for Thomas to lead Trufant on a collision course with Alford, leaving Thomas wide open down the left side.

Brees overthrew him, forcing a rare New Orleans punt.  It would be one of the few breaks the Falcons would get on this day.

A Note on TaysomHill

Every New Orleans broadcast includes some kind of feature on third-string quarterback Taysom Hill.  Listed as 6-2 and 221 pounds (although he looks much bigger) Hill has become quite a story.  He returns kickoffs, plays on all the coverage teams, and lines up all over the field – including tight end and wide receiver.

Hill is said to be the fastest player on the team.  Coach Sean Payton – who is something of a subject matter expert – claims that Hill will be a starting quarterback in this league.  As a receiver, Hill displays down-the-field speed, but none of the nuances (yet) of the position – double-moves, etc.  The same is true of his kick returning and other running.  Hill is a downhill runner, with none of the shiftiness that makes receivers like Tyreek Hill so feared.

So, what Taysom Hill may or may not develop into on the field remains purely speculative.  Here is what we know for sure about him.

Taysom Hill is a football player.

At the very end of the third quarter, Hill took a kickoff at his own 5 yard line.  Finding a crease up the left sideline, Hill exploded through it.  At the end of the corridor stood kicker Matthew Bosher.  Hill lowered his shoulder and blew through him and straight into the three defenders that were moving quickly into the area.  Later in the fourth quarter, now playing quarterback, Taysom kept the ball on a read-option run.  He punctuated his 8-yard run first by running through Foyesade Oluokun’s attempt to stop him in the backfield, and then by lowering that shoulder again and driving linebacker Campbell straight back into Damontae Kazee’s lap.  He then drove both of them a couple yards up the field before plowing into the midsection of Poole, who, with the help of the other two, finally brought Hill down.

There is, seemingly, no aspect of this game that Taysom Hill does not relish – whether it’s blocking from the tight end position or even the special teams roles that aren’t regarded as football’s most glamorous opportunities.  He certainly doesn’t shy away from contact.  In fact, judging from the face-wide grin he wears after hitting someone (or being hit), the contact might be the thing he likes best.

In all of this, everything about him is refreshing.  Whatever his eventual future is in this game, it’s hard not to root for this kid with a rare combination of size and speed.