Falcons have plan for expected Saints starting QB Taysom Hill

The Saints' Taysom Hill is tackled by the Falcons' Kendall Sheffield Nov. 10, 2019, at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
The Saints' Taysom Hill is tackled by the Falcons' Kendall Sheffield Nov. 10, 2019, at the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

Credit: Chris Graythen

Credit: Chris Graythen

For the first four days of the week, Jameis Winston was the assumed starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.

By late Friday morning, everything changed.

According to multiple reports, with NFL Media being the first, quarterback Taysom Hill will earn his first career start for the Saints in Sunday’s game against the Falcons. To this point in his professional career, Hill has been a utility player. He’d relieve Drew Brees and run the wildcat formation with the occasional pass. He’d line up in the backfield at tailback. He’d line up at tight end and receiver.

Saints coach Sean Payton has used Hill in a variety of ways during his four seasons with the franchise. But until Sunday, he’d never been a starting quarterback. When Brees was forced to miss five games last season, Teddy Bridgewater, now with the Carolina Panthers, took over, with Hill maintaining his gadget role.

All of that is expected to change Sunday.

While those outside the Saints’ franchise planned for Winston start, the Falcons continued preparing for both quarterbacks. With Payton at the Saints’ helm, Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said you can never let your guard down.

“You don’t allow anything Sean’s capable of doing to shock you,” Morris said. “He’s been talking a lot about Taysom Hill from the beginning. He’s always talked about him being similar to Steve Young, in his opinion. People he’s coached before, none of those things would shock me, whether it’s Jameis or Taysom.

“We’ve been talking the same way all week in our preparation, in our planning, our coaching, our players, everybody. Whoever they put out there, they put out there. That’s their brothers. We’ll go out there and execute our plan with what needs to be done.”

Winston obviously has the pedigree as a former No. 1 overall pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who spent five years as a starter. When Brees exited Sunday’s win over the San Francisco 49ers because of fractured ribs and a collapsed lung, Winston was the one who entered the game.

But the Saints have long been high on Hill’s ability as a quarterback. Despite the fact that Hill had thrown only 13 career passes before this season began, the Saints signed him to a two-year extension worth $21 million, with $16 million guaranteed. This year, Hill has attempted only five throws, completing four of them.

Sunday’s game will give the Saints a firsthand look as to whether they do, in fact, have the heir apparent to Brees at quarterback.

Hill brings a much different element to the position than Brees. He is much more mobile and can make plays as both a downhill runner and while scrambling outside the pocket. Considering his lack of attempts in the NFL, questions remain about how effective he can be as a downfield passer. At BYU he dealt with numerous injuries, with his best year coming as a sophomore in 2013. That season, he completed 53.9% of his throws for 2,938 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also totaled 1,344 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.

Against the Falcons, Hill has completed one pass in two attempts in four combined games when he’s seen offensive snaps. He’s also run eight times for 96 yards and a touchdown. In the second meeting between the rivals a year ago, a New Orleans’ win, Hill also caught two passes for 12 yards and a touchdown.

Linebacker Foye Oluokun said Hill’s presence as a mobile quarterback means the defense must do a good job containing the designed runs as well as the scrambles.

“It’s finishing off (when) it’s a quarterback run,” Oluokun said. “Getting people to the ball, making him throw the ball and being in our coverages.”

Despite his use as a utility player and the fact he was a 58.2% passer in his college career at BYU, defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich believes Hill can get the job done as a traditional quarterback.

“He’s got a better arm than you want him to have for a guy who runs as well as he does,” Ulbrich said. “He’s an extremely talented runner. He’s very running back-like when he’s got the ball in his hands. Then when he drops back, he throws it better than you’d like him to. You have to be very disciplined in your rush lanes.

“You can’t get this guy scrambling all over the field on you. You have to be very cognizant of keeping him in the pocket and forcing him to throw from there. And when he does scramble you’ve got to have guys account for him. Other than that, from a coverage standpoint you don’t change much from quarterback to quarterback.”

In Other News