With each passing week, the Saints are using quarterback Taysom Hill less and less and less.
A stellar performance in the playoff loss to the Vikings provided a glimpse of what Hill could be as a dual-threat quarterback. Since that game — during which he participated in 41 percent of the offensive snaps and 84 percent of the special-teams plays — Hill’s involvement in both phases of the game has consistently dropped.
For Week One, Hill was on the field for 25 percent of the offensive snaps and 36 percent of the special-teams plays. In Week Two, the numbers fell to 23 and 19, respectively. In Sunday night’s loss to the Packers, Hill’s participation shrunk to 21 percent of the offensive snaps and 16 percent of the special-teams plays.
Last night, Hill had two carries for eight yards, one reception for one yard, and (for the second straight week) zero passes thrown. One of the rushing attempts resulted in a fumble by Hill on a second-and-short read-option play during which he arguably should have handed off. (Packers linebacker Za'Darius Smith did a great job of hesitating to commit to pursuing running back Latavius Murray or Hill, who kept the ball and run right into Smith. If Hills had evaded Smith, it could have been a huge gain.)
As one league source explained it before Sunday’s game, Hill’s usage ultimately will be dictated by coach Sean Payton, who “will use Hill as [Payton] sees fit.” It’s believed that Hill is being used less because they’re focusing on getting him ready to play quarterback in 2021, if Drew Brees retires.
Of course, it would make sense for the Saints to enhance Hill’s development as a passer by letting him, you know, pass the ball. He has one attempt in three games, and it went for a 38-yard gain on a gadget-style play late in the win over Tampa Bay.
The best evidence of a developmental focus for Hill comes from his plummeting involvement in special-teams plays. From 84 percent in the playoff loss to 36 in Week One to 19 in Week Two to 16 in Week Three, the Saints are sacrificing the involvement of a large, fast, potent weapon on their various special-teams units. That doesn’t exactly justify the significant contract they gave him after the 2019 season.
The payoff, if any, apparently will come later. It’s definitely not coming sooner, but for an injury to Brees.
Even so, a defense eventually will crowd the short zones and dare Brees to throw deep. That will provide the opportunity for a quick flip to Hill, who can then uncork a long pass, like he did in Week One.
Whatever the Saints do with Hill, they need a spark offensively. Maybe it will come from the eventual return of Michael Thomas. Or maybe, this year, it will be a little more elusive.