Taysom Hill Proved He’s a Starting Quarterback

Taysom Hill finally got his shot to start for the New Orleans Saints and he did not disappoint. He showed good mechanics and accuracy and was routinely able to move through reads. He dealt well with pressure off of play-action, understood where his hot routes were, and his ball placement helped keep his receivers out of harms way. While it wasn’t a perfect game and he was inconsistent with his anticipation throws, it was a very good showing for his first start as a quarterback.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

(SN/Getty)

Reading the Defense

One of the more common pass game concepts that the Saints run is Dagger. It involves a clear out from the slot and a deep dig in behind it from the #1 receiver with a shallow drag from the receiver to the backside of the play. The clear out takes away the deep defenders and the shallow drag is designed to help hold the linebackers underneath which opens up space for the deep dig. This play shows the versatility that Taysom Hill brings to the quarterback position.

He did a really good job most of the game keeping his eyes up when moving in the pocket and getting outside. Taysom comes out of the play action and looks to locate where the underneath defenders are to see if they’ve gotten under the dig. As he diagnosis that, he feels pressure and has to climb up and out of the pocket. A really good indicator that he has a chance to become a legitimate starter is that he keeps his eyes up instead of relying on his legs. He sees that the dig has made its way across the field and delivers a really accurate ball on the move to his receiver.

This is that same Dagger concept but I want to use this example to show Taysom’s ball placement ability and his understanding of defenses and holes that appear. The Falcons here are bailing to a two-high safety look with the slot defender immediately turning his hips and bailing at the snap. Again, off of play-action, Taysom has to quickly diagnose this shift and process what that means for the play.

With that rotate and with no receivers releasing to the top of the screen, Taysom understands that that corner can now get under the clear out and the original middle field safety is freed up to rob anything in the middle. This means that Taysom needs to protect his receiver on the deep dig if that’s what he’s going to throw. He can’t lead him into the middle of the field because that free safety will be able to deliver a big hit or impact the throw. Taysom is able to diagnose all of that and throw to the back hip of the receiver to slow them down and prevent a big collision with the safety.

Taysom Hill showed a few good anticipation throws throughout the game as well. The guy might be 30 years old, but for a first start and his prospects of being a legitimate starter, these are some really big things at the quarterback position. Taysom consistently had a stable base which allowed him to be accurate and stay on rhythm to throw with anticipation. Here he’s seeing the space underneath the deep curl is open and begins his throwing motion just as his receiver is breaking down. These are the kinds of throws that can be problematic if you throw them late or aren’t seeing the defense well but Taysom was able to hit a number of these through the game.

He wasn’t perfect, but the throws he made were definitely good indicators. Here again, he keeps a solid base and begins his throwing motion just as the receiver is starting to break their route off and hits him at eye level for an easy completion.

Ball Placement

That ball placement is what I found most impressive.  It’s starting quarterback caliber. He’d throw back hip to slow receivers down and protect them from hits, give them balls that they could easily run with after the catch, and showed decisiveness and zip on a lot of his underneath and intermediate throws even with pressure in his face.

Understanding Blitzes

While he showed good understanding of where his hot reads were, there were a couple times where he didn’t realize he was hot. Based on what the defense is showing here, there are seven total potential rushers and the Saints are in an empty formation with no running back to help in pass protection. Taysom knows that if more than five rushers come, he has to get rid of the ball.

The Saints are running a half line slide here to the side with more potential rushers. From the center over, they’re sliding right to take care of the three “bigs” or defensive linemen to that side. Taysom Hill has to know that if either linebacker comes on a blitz to that side, he’s hot and has to throw to the area that that linebacker is blitzing from. The Saints have a drag from Michael Thomas built in that would be the route Taysom should throw since the linebacker is blitzing from that area. However, Taysom doesn’t look to check for a blitz and therefore doesn’t see the pressure coming soon enough. By the time he feels it, it’s already too late and he takes a sack.

Late Reads

While Taysom did show a number of anticipation throws, there were also some reads where he was a beat late. On his only turnover worthy throw of the day here, he’s seeing the window, but throwing it late. He initially wants the route out of the backfield to Deonte Harris but holds onto it for a beat too long. There’s a window for the drag to Thomas but it has to be thrown with anticipation. With Taysom being a beat late, the defender is able to close the opening and get a hand on the ball.

It’s a small sample size in his first start but there also may be some concern for his deep ball. Taysom Hill had no issue driving the ball on intermediate throws but the two times he tried to load up and throw deep, he ended up underthrowing his receivers. It worked out both of these times, but if he’s going to attack deep downfield, he might need to be a guy that does it on rhythm much like Drew Brees does. He doesn’t seem to be a guy that can throw it late on a broken play since he’s topping out at about 50-55 yards on these throws. That’s more than enough for normal fades and rhythm posts, but not quite enough to sling it late downfield.

Arm Strength

Running Threat

Of course, while Taysom Hill may struggle throwing deep late, he does bring his ability to scramble and run to the table which can’t be overlooked. The Saints really didn’t do anything fancy but ran this quarterback power lead play five separate times in the game. It helps the offense gain an extra blocker when the quarterback is the ball carrier and adds to Taysom’s ability and utility. In important situations, he’s able to get yards with his legs and adds another dimension to the Saints attack.

We knew Taysom Hill was a versatile player before this but I came away very impressed with his accuracy, clean mechanics, and ability to keep his eyes downfield when under pressure and outside the pocket. He’s always a threat on the ground but if he wants the opportunity to be a legitimate starting quarterback, he’s going to have to continue to put together games like he did against the Falcons. It wasn’t perfect, but it showed his ability and gave the Saints something to think about going forward. Maybe all that talk Sean Payton did about him being the next Steve Young isn’t so far off and the Saints will be set for years to come.

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NFL Film Breakdown: How the Saints use Pass Game Concepts Dagger and Y-Cross to Create Chunk Plays

A lot has been made of Drew Brees’ arm strength and the New Orleans Saints, but they’re sitting at 3-2 and are right in the thick of things in the NFC South. They’re scoring 30.6 points per game, and while there is a lot of short game and possession passing in the Saints offense, they also attack the intermediate middle of the field with deep digs and crossers in the Dagger and Y-Cross concepts. These those two schemes are very similar to each other and also work to open up space underneath for Kamara on check downs. Nothing is really new under the sun for NFL teams and passing schemes. Almost every team uses some variation of the big concepts like Drive, Shallow Cross, Stick, Mesh, or Dagger, but the inventive coaches find ways to tweak them, make them look different, disguise them so defenses can’t key on them, and even combine multiple concepts into one play; and that’s what Sean Payton does a good job of.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

https://cbssportsradio.radio.com/articles/sean-payton-discusses-drew-brees-new-orleans-saints

First, let’s understand the Dagger concept. Dagger uses a clear out with a deep dig behind it and typically a shallow drag or someone in the flats underneath it to give a high-low read on the defense. Dagger can be incredibly effective against any coverage. Its one downfall though, is that the primary read and goal of the play – the deep dig – takes a long time to develop so it puts a big burden on the offensive line. With the deep dig to attack the middle of the field, you’ll often see it called in 2nd or 3rd and long situations where you’re more likely to see two high safeties and softer coverage. That’s exactly what we have here with a 3rd and 15 for the Saints. Here, the Packers are in match cover 4. What that means is that for all intents and purposes, the deep routes are covered in man. Match coverage uses a lot of man on demand or MOD coverage. If the receiver lined up on the corner goes vertical, the coverage turns into man. If that receiver goes inside within five yards, the corner would pass that route off to the linebacker. This also applies to the nickel corners here lined up over the #2 receivers. If their receiver goes vertical, they carry. If they go inside under five yards, they pass it off. You can see just that at the top of the screen as the tight end Jared Cook immediately goes inside and the corner passes him off the linebacker while pointing and communicating an “in” call.

The safeties meanwhile, are giving support over the top and helping to bracket routes inside and out. You can see that the safety to the bottom of the screen quickly bails to the outside to bracket the receiver to the outside while the nickel carries him from the inside. Kevin King on the other side of the field is running a lock call so no matter what, he’s man on that receiver. This frees up Adrian Amos to peak and lean to the field side and help down the middle. This is exactly what the Dagger concept can exploit. Remember, we have a clear out with a seam or a skinny post from the play-side slot receiver. This receiver needs to get inside of the safety to his side so that he pulls him in coverage. The more people he can take with him on this route, the better. On the outside, we know that in match cover 4, the corner is going to be MOD on the dig because it’s deeper than five yards. So, we’re clearing the nickel corner and play-side safety and now have a one-on-one with the corner on the outside. Meanwhile, from the backside of the play, we have that shallow drag coming across the field. We talked about that being passed off to the linebacker and that’s exactly what happens. It keeps the linebacker underneath to open the window for the deep dig behind. It all works perfectly – except for protection starts to break down and Brees can’t hang in the pocket long enough to hit the dig as it’s breaking open. What the route concept has done though, is left Kamara one-on-one in the open field against that dime corner that passed off the shallow drag. A matchup that the Saints love every day of the week. It might be a dump off and check down off of a deep play concept, but it picks up the 15 yards on 3rd and long and moves the chains because it has stressed the defense vertically and opened space underneath.

Dagger is still really effective against a single high safety look as well. The purpose of the clear out is exactly the same. His job is to hold that safety with his seam route and pull the corner with him to clear space underneath for the deep dig. The Raiders are bringing extra pressure here so the middle of the field is really open but that means the running back has to stay in to help with the blitz so there is no outlet for Brees now. He’s going to have to stand in the pocket until the dig develops or until the shallow drag pops open. What’s great about these tight splits when running Dagger is that the deep dig gets inside leverage on that cover 3 corner which makes life a lot easier on both the quarterback and the receiver. The slot corner carries the seam up to the safety, the dig has leverage on the corner outside, and Brees can throw with anticipation here because there’s no linebacker to get in the passing lane and he can see the corners back turned in the middle of the field. The safety tries to rotate down on it, but it’s too late and a nice chunk gain for the Saints.

The Saints will run Dagger a couple times a game to attack the middle of the field. The concept stays the same and is effective against whatever coverage they might see. Even if it doesn’t go to the deep dig, it still gets their playmakers in space underneath.

So that’s Dagger. What Sean Payton has started to combine it with though is the Y-Cross concept. Let’s dig into that a little bit and then we’ll see how he meshes the Dagger and Y-Cross into one to add wrinkles to the playbook and give Brees a lot of options on the play. The Y-Cross is run by a lot of teams off play-action and with tight ends but you can run it out of any personnel grouping and off pure drop back as well. Against the Lions, the Saints run it out of 11 personnel with a rocket motion to the field. The tight end, or the Y, has the Crossing route. He is working for an inside release and then across the field and an angle at which he would run out of bounds at 18-22 yards downfield. Against zone, he would settle in the first hole after the Mike linebacker and in man he would continue to run across the field. Behind the Y-Cross, you have a deep dig route similar to what we saw on Dagger. There really are a ton of areas that are possible to settle in for both the Y-Cross and that deep dig route so it can be hard to recognize since it can be run five times and have the receivers all stopping in five different spots on the field. The concept on Y-Cross it is very similar, the Y-Cross pulls defenders and vacates space for the dig coming in behind it. The main difference here is that the outside receiver is running a vertical route and there’s no shallow drag coming underneath it. The first read is always checking for that vertical from the X receiver away from the Y-Cross. The quarterback then works to the Y-Cross, and then the deep dig behind it.

Now on a pure drop back you have the same concept, with the Y-Cross which can sometimes be checked into a hard dig if the receiver is feeling man coverage. You still have the dig behind it and the vertical from the X receiver. Brees could have again had the dig but checks it down to Kamara in the flats and ends up getting good yardage. With all that flow to one side, the Saints like to leak Kamara into the flats into the backside. Again, they’re just getting their best player in space on a linebacker or corner and letting him go to work.

Now that we understand what both Dagger and Y-Cross look like we can look at what the Saints do out of trips to combine the two concepts into one play and stress the defense in multiple ways. It’s an easy install into already established plays in the offense and allows versatility for attacking coverages and creating a big play. The Chargers are in a unique defense here where they’re playing man coverage underneath with one true free safety and then two deep seem defenders that are going to sit at the sticks and help bracket players from the outside on this 3rd and 14 from the Saints. The Saints call up their Y-Cross Dagger combination concept out of trips. The #3 receiver runs the Y-Cross, the #2 receiver runs that seam clear out that we saw in Dagger, and the #1 receiver runs the deep dig behind it. On the single receiver side you have the shallow drag that you normally see in Dagger as well. So really it’s just like running a Y-Cross with the additional receiver on the Dagger side when they’re in trips. You have Dagger from the outside guys and the dig plays into the Y-Cross so you’ve managed to combine both concepts. What this does is attack that deep safety with two verticals. If he runs to the Y-Cross, he’s leaving his corner out to dry down the seam, and if he stays with the seam like he does, it puts the linebacker in trail position in an impossible position. That seam defender to the boundary at the top of the screen is supposed to sit and guard the sticks, but if there’s nobody threatening, he has to get deep and underneath the Y- Cross. That player is #44 Kyzir White who plays linebacker. Clearly not a guy that’s used to protecting a deep zone of the field. Brees knows that, and attacks that matchup. If the Y-Cross wasn’t there though, the dig portion of the concept is about to break open in the middle of the field and the shallow drag has pulled out any underneath defenders. The Seam from Dagger concept held the safety to allow the Y-Cross to get open.

The Saints have run this combo concept a couple times this year. This time, against the Lions, the Seam is the one that’s open. Brees ends up checking it down to the shallow drag to Taysom Hill but let’s take a look at the bind it puts defenses in. The Y-Cross gets the safety’s his hips turned inside and the dig helps bring down the corner. The corner to the top of the screen jumps on the dig and with the safeties hips turned the wrong way, the Seam is open and there’s a ton of space for Brees to throw to. The Y-Cross has taken 3 defenders, the Dig has taken two, and that leaves 1-on-1 matchups for the rest of the routes – the seam, shallow drag, and leak from Kamara. Brees comes down to the shallow drag who settles in the middle of the field but the shot to the seam was there and available for a big play.

The Saints are right in the thick of things and have managed to survive a stretch without their best weapon in Michael Thomas while still being right at the top of the NFC South. Things are only going to improve for that offense upon his return. Sean Payton does a good job of combining concepts and attacking defenses in multiple ways. It creates easy outlets for Drew Brees and even when they don’t work, they end up getting Kamara into the flats. So, let’s not say Drew Brees is washed and the Saints are done. They’re just fine. With the wrinkles that Sean Payton assuredly has in store, the sky is still the limit for the Saints and they can absolutely still compete for a Super Bowl.

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Opening Scripts and Exploiting the Defense

Seven plays, 75 yards, 4:21 off the clock, and 7 points. The Saints’ first opening drive touchdown of the year did a great job attacking the weakness of a defense and stacking plays that look different but are the same basic concepts.

Play-callers often come into games with a set script for their first drive. Usually it builds in different formations, personnel, and looks to 1. See how the defense adjusts and reacts to, 2. Attack weakness in the defense, 3. Show plays that will be built on later that look similar but that are different, and 4. Potentially catch the defense in a sub package of players that they feel like they can exploit on that drive. This set script can range anywhere from five to 15 plays that coordinators want to run at the beginning of the game to get their playmakers involved and test the defense.

The Saints huddle on 3rd and 12 vs. the Panthers on their opening drive in week 12 of the 2019 NFL season

Data shows that if you have no explosive plays in a drive (16+ yard pass or 12+ yards on a run), you have a 9% chance of scoring. If you have one explosive play that scoring probability goes to 49% and if you have two explosives, it goes up to 77% (Maddox & Slack, 2011). The Saints had two in their opening drive including the 26 yard TD run by Murray.

The best way to get explosives is by scheming up plays for your best players. The Saints started off doing just that. Murray, Thomas, and Kamara each had two touches on the drive and Tedd Ginn had a 30 yard gain on a scramble drill from Brees. What capped the drive is how they started with their first play though. The Saints came out in heavy personnel to try and force the Panthers to match with big bodies, something the Panthers are thin on with an already porous run defense.

The opening play featured a personnel group with three tight-end types and one running back – Latavius Murray. The Saints crunch their H, #86 across the formation in the hopes that it pulls a LB out of position and causes a loss of gap integrity. Instead, Luke Kuechly and the linebackers bump over, fill perfectly, and cause Murray to bounce right into a gap filled by Eric Reid (#25). The center and right guard are occupied by the defensive tackle #95 Dontari Poe and can’t climb to get an extra block. You’ll still take your RB in a hole on a safety any day though and Murray falls forward for three yards. You can see the blocking scheme and the tracks and fits of the LBs in the image below.

Saints first play from scrimmage. Hand-off to Murray for 3 yds (E.Reid)

Take a look at the great job of the Panthers linebackers all being assignment-sound and fitting perfectly in their gaps. Great team football. Murray makes a decisive cut and falls forward for what he can when he meets Eric Reid in the hole.

After going spread and hitting a short completion on a shallow crosser to Michael Thomas, the Saints are set up with 3rd and 3.

They dial up a pretty simple high / low concept with their two best players on the same side of the field Kamara (#41) takes a wider split in the backfield to enable an easier release and Michael Thomas (#13) is split to the single receiver side. With both of them on the same side and only three players on defense to guard them, one of them will be singled up and open a window for the other. With a pre-snap motion and no man follow, Brees knows that the Panthers are in cover two with two outside leverage corners up close to the line of scrimmage and two deep safeties. Now all Brees has to do is read #23 (the red triangle), the nickel corner over Kamara. If he comes up on Kamara’s hitch pattern right at the line to gain, he can throw the post behind him to Thomas. If #23 drops under the post, he can throw the sit for the first down. Super easy concept and read which was helped to diagnose with the pre-snap motion.

D.Brees pass short left to M.Thomas to NO 45 for 13 yards (E.Reid). Pass 12, YAC 1

Not the easiest catch, but watch the space it creates for Thomas when #23 comes down on Kamara to play the sticks.

Following their first down, they give it to Kamara for a 5 yard run. While the next play goes for 30 yards on a scramble drill, it also might be concerning for Saints fans. The Saints go with a two-back set and split Kamara #41 out wide hoping for a mismatch. The Panthers, however, are in nickel with an extra defensive back on the field to guard against exactly this type of thing. Kamara demands too much respect as a receiver to put a linebacker on him but this also lightens the box and makes it easier for the Saints to run. A double edged sword. The Saints use a short motion to try and create some leverage for Kamara on a corner-fade while sending Ted Ginn on a skinny post down the middle of the field right at #25 Eric Reid at safety. Ted Ginn does a great job of stemming his route outside and forcing Reid to turn his hips to the sideline to prevent against a fade. He then snaps it off to run a post and there’s absolutely nobody in the middle of the field with #33 the other FS coming down on the intermediate dig route. Drew Brees is looking right at him… and doesn’t throw it. It’s as wide open as you get in the NFL, he has a clean pocket, and all he has to do is throw it out down the opposing hash and let Ginn run under it. You can see in both the sideline and end-zone views that Brees is looking at him. Concerns about Brees’ arm strength have been a concern as he has gotten older and the Saints are only attempting about three deep passes a game which might make you wonder if Brees trusts his arm on deep throws anymore (Player Profiler, 2019). Despite the miss on the read throw to the post, Brees moves out of the pocket, Ginn works back towards the ball and they connect on the sideline for a 30 yard gain.

D.Brees pass deep left to T.Ginn ran ob at CAR 26 for 30 yards. Pass 30, YAC 0

Watch Eric Reid, the Safety at the bottom and how Ginn forces him to flip his hips and wins the middle of the field.

On the scoring play they go back to heavy personnel and actually bring in an extra lineman in addition to two tight-ends and a running back (Murray) but are essentially in the same formation. A couple plays earlier, Dontari Poe, who helped blow up the first play and hold a double team, game off with an injury. Wouldn’t you know it, the Panthers lined up exactly the same as they did on the first play of the game when faced with heavy personnel and wouldn’t you know it, the Saints ran essentially the same play right at McCoy’s replacement. This time, with a little window dressing, a shift, the right guard and right tackle win their double team and drive their man into Kuechly (#59) who reads the fullback and goes to fill the wrong gap. As a result, he can’t scrape over the double team and the cutback lane opens up. Murray reads the hole, cuts off his guards back, and explodes into the open field for a touchdown.

W.Clapp reported in as eligible. L.Murray right guard for 26 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Watch Kuechly #59 at MLB move to the right to attack the FB and designed gap for the play. Not sound defense though. #54 is already there to fill and with Kuechly out of position, it opens up a hole for Murray.

While nothing world-beating or terribly innovative, the Saints opening drive exploited every weakness it could find in the Panthers defense. As soon as a backup came in, they attacked, they overloaded one side of the field with two of their best players, they threw different formations and personnel at them, and they called plays to get the ball in their best players’ hands. All resulting in an opening drive TD for the Saints and a perfect a start to a division game as you can hope for.

you liked this post make sure to subscribe here and let us know what you think. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen. If you feel like donating to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here.

References

(2019, November 26). Retrieved from Player Profiler: https://www.playerprofiler.com/nfl/drew-brees/

Maddox, D., & Slack, D. (2011). From Helmet to Headset: Coaching the R4 Expert System. Apopka, Florida: Certa Publishing.

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