A funny thing happened to the New Orleans Saints franchise last night during their 3rd game of the 2018 NFL Pre-Season, although it’s fair to say that that it might not have been something that anyone would have anticipated happening just one week ago at this same time.
Only one week removed from a near-disastrous performance in the team’s previous Pre-Season game in which he committed four turnovers in the first half alone in a home loss to the Arizona Cardinals, back-up QB Taysom Hill bounced back strongly last night against the Los Angles Chargers in the Saints’ dominant 36-7 victory; and in the process might have given the organization and head coach Sean Payton a blueprint for future success down the line for the 28-year old phenom.
Simply put, Hill took command of the offense in the 3rd quarter after starting QB Drew Brees and #2 QB Tom Savage had both already previously seen action and helped the team to a 14-7 halftime lead; and made plays in just about every way humanly possible in a Pro Football contest.
But not before his utilizing his unique blend of speed and athleticism to impact the team in what has routinely become totally unexpected or “unpredictable” ways — either as a special teams performer or while under center running the offense.
First, he helped Brees and the 1st-team offense by gaining 5 yards on a fake punt to pick up the Saints’ 1st first down of the game, after an interception and a 3-and-out on the team’s first 2 possessions. The conversion eventually helped set up the Saints’ first touchdown of the game by 2nd year RB Alvin Kamara.
Then on the ensuing kickoff, Hill was on the kick coverage team and nailed Chargers CB Desmond King at the Chargers’ 17-yard line with a hard-hitting but fundamentally sound tackle after a 19-yard return. But it was when he took over the reigns of the offense early on in the 3rd quarter, that Hill made things happen with his elite capabilities as a runner that have drawn comparisons to past NFL QB’s with similar attributes.
Hill, who leads the Saints in rushing this Pre-Season with 130 yards on 16 carries, scored the Saints’ 2nd rushing TD of the night when he sprinted around the left end for an 11-yard score. The play occurred on a 3rd-down-and-6 situation in which Hill rolled out to his left but saw nothing — and then quickly took off for the pylon at the left-hand front corner of the end zone. On the very next play, Hill kept a read option and punched it in for a 2-point conversion as New Orleans took a commanding 22-7 lead.
For good measure, Hill ended up looking much better as a passer “in the pocket” this week; completing 7 of 8 passes for 66 yards, including a 5-yard TD pass to WR / rookie sensation Tre’Quan Smith for the Saints’ final TD of the night offensively.
So basically: Hill almost single-handedly beat the Chargers all by himself last night in the 2nd half; with his undeniably rare and at-times rather dynamic athleticism for a quarterback that has made him such a key figure for the team’s likely future at the position once Brees finally retires for good.
And as CBS Sports announcers Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts noted during the broadcast after Hill’s notable performance: his capability to be “unpredictable” from play-to-play while he’s running the offense either as a runner or a passer (because the opponent doesn’t know what’s coming next) could eventually become the formula (or blueprint, if you’d prefer that term) to future success for the Saints with Hill running the team further down the line.
“There’s something he brings to the team that carries and permeates through the sideline,” Payton said to reporters in his post-game news conference. “When you see a quarterback who’s down making a tackle as one of the faster players on the coverage units. … there’s a spirit about him that I think is contagious and good.”
From Hill’s perspective however, while he doesn’t mind being a key contributor on special teams, he has an ultimate goal; and that goal is to play QB — but not just as a guy carrying a clipboard on the sidelines. His goal is to eventually (and hopefully) take over the offense when Brees is gone.
“Look, in the long run, I want to play quarterback,” Hill said. “Being able to operate efficiently and effectively inside this offense has always been my mindset in this training camp.”
“I think there are defensive looks that are more conducive for a quarterback to run the ball, and there can be some times when it’s difficult to not do that when you can get a big gain, but overall, I think my mindset is to stick to what the play is, let the play run its course,” Hill said.
“If they cover a play, then make them pay.”
Hill came under fire from many ‘Who Dats’ after what happened last week, when he turned the ball over on 4 different occasions against Arizona, during a performance that started with a bad decision on a throw that got intercepted, and went downhill (no pun intended) from there.
But last night’s performance against the Chargers was impressive as it ever gets in the National Football League; and after a week spent in the fans’ proverbial dog-house for that rough outing the week before, Hill’s performance last night has put him squarely back in the conversation this morning as the possible “heir apparent” to Brees.
And what does Drew Brees himself think about the whole situation?
“I can’t say enough about him, his contributions to the team, his mindset, his work ethic, his unselfishness,” Brees said. “He wants to play quarterback, he loves playing quarterback, and he’s making strides, he’s developing a comfort level in this offense.”
“Imagine the load that’s on you as a quarterback, and then couple that with being a four-core special-teams guy,” Brees said. “There’s a lot on that guy’s plate, and he has handled it as well as anybody can handle it.”
Let’s be sure that the Saints coaching staff and specifically Payton get some credit for handling Hill’s situation as they have, especially when they have writers like myself doubting their wisdom and logic at nearly every turn.
But as last night against the Chargers VERY CLEARLY showed: the Saints just might have a blueprint for future success down the line for themselves with Taysom Hill at quarterback after all — and his capability at being “unpredictable”, is a big part of it……
Editor’s Note: If you enjoy Barry’s writing, be sure to check out his interview piece on Saints linebacker Demario Davis! Don’t forget to also check out our series on things to do in New Orleans as well as upcoming events!