Taysom Hill’s value to the New Orleans Saints is unparalleled considering the many ways he impacts the game. Whether he’s utilized as a lead blocker, a receiving threat, or his variety of special team roles that go under the radar, Hill’s toughness and diverse skill set always bring challenges to the opposing defense. Where Hill has shined the brightest though, is in the quarterback run game and short yardage situations, especially with pseudo full-back Khalen Saunders leading the way. The Saints have consistently relied on Hill’s downhill and hard nosed running style to pick up first downs in critical short yardage situations and were clearly unable to adapt with him out of the lineup.
Leading up to last Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, the availability of Hill was under question as he battled two separate foot and hand injuries. When it was announced that the Saints would be without their Swiss-army-knife playmaker, not having him available raised questions how the Saints would manage their short yardage situations. His absence evidently loomed large, despite the final score.
Whether it was using Lynn Bowden (a former quarterback in college) in the Taysom role, increasing Alvin Kamara’s touches, or utilizing Jamaal Williams’ skillset who has proven to be a quality short yardage back during his days with the Detroit Lions, it was intriguing to see how the Saints would adapt their offense to maximize their talent and find ways to convert in those crucial short yardage situations. But instead of utilizing any of these options, the Saints continuously elected to drop back and pass which had very little success.
A key play in the game came on a critical 3rd and short with 3:44 left in the third quarter as the Saints led by eight. Quarterback Derek Carr lined up in the shotgun, changed the protection call at the line of scrimmage, and dialed up a quick pass concept to try to open up Chris Olave in the slot. The Panthers brought a blitz and blew by Right guard Cesar Ruiz to sack Carr, leading to an ugly argument between Carr and Center Erik McCoy as they ran off the field. When two team captains are seen arguing emphatically in the midst of an important game, that is always serious cause for concern. Maybe it all could have been avoided if Taysom had been in the lineup and that entire sequence never happened.
That play was just one example of many. The Saints went 3-10 on third down throughout the game and 2-6 on downs of less than three yards. A glaring stat that would have been exposed if not for playing a far inferior opponent. Hill’s absence certainly had a lot to do with it. If Hill continues to be out of the lineup, 3rd and short conversions will be vital for the Saitns offense to figure out moving forward.
Luckily for the New Orleans Saints, Hill was able to fully participate in Friday's practice after logging two limited sessions earlier in the week. He does not have an injury designation going into this Sunday's game against the New York Giants, great news considering the Giants are top five in defensive 3rd down percentage. This is a welcome return.