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Taysom Hill “expected to start” for the Saints against the Falcons

Sean Payton is going full galaxy brain against Atlanta at last.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With Drew Brees out, the operating assumption among basically everyone who pays any attention was that Jameis Winston would start at quarterback. Winston has his significant flaws—we’ll outline those in a piece a little later today—but he’s also a 70 game starter with a tremendous arm who could lift Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook with the offense banged up. It seemed logical to assume that, but as we know with Sean Payton, logic is not always the determining factor.

That’s why it was never entirely fair to rule out the team starting Taysom Hill, a 30-year-old try-hard who has thrown 18 passes in his entire career. What makes Hill’s shtick work, if it can be said to do that, is that you never quite know what he’s going to do when he’s in the game, and he is a legitimately frustrating runner and receiver, especially near the red zone. Despite that fact, Payton has never really stopped talking about Hill as though he could be a terrific starting quarterback, despite the fact that he has 10 completions and zero touchdowns in 46 games. It appears that the Saints are either committed to the illusion that they’re starting Hill or preparing to actually start him, and Ian Rapoport is reporting the latter.

Per Diana Russini at ESPN via Adam Schefter, the Saints aren’t even planning plays for Winston Sunday. This again feels a bit like a work and something that’s unlikely to hold up on gameday, especially if Hill struggles as a passer, but it means we should absolutely expect to see the 30-year-old “quarterback” under center at the start of this one.

I can’t stress how insane this seems. Hill is a Payton favorite and has been for years, but the Saints passing attack has worked based on Brees’ pinpoint accuracy and receivers being able to pick up additional yardage. Winston would be a big departure from that, but he’s a proven NFL quarterback with genuine strengths. Hill is a Swiss Army knife without the can opener piece, and this passing game is a can of tuna: You can get the dang thing open with one of the 15 knives on there, but it’s not going to pretty and it’s not likely to work particularly well.

The Falcons will have to look out for Hill’s tendency to pull down and run the ball, a vexing habit that’s really what makes him effective under center. His 18 career passing attempts have suggested he has a fine arm but scattershot accuracy and feel, a problem when Michael Thomas looks slowed, Tre’Quan Smith is probably out, and Alvin Kamara may be limited even if he does play. If he’s in and throwing all game, it greatly increases Atlanta’s chances of getting off the field on defense, no matter how alert they’ll need to be for him scrambling. Remember, Winston has a 25/11 TD/INT ratio against the Falcons and has killed them in the past, even if he was pretty mediocre a year ago.

In the end I have to think Winston will still end up getting most of the snaps at quarterback, because he’s a proven, quality starter despite his risky throws and tendency to take sacks. It appears Hill will hit the field first, though, and the Falcons will either be the first team he embarrasses as a “starting” quarterback or the last team he gets a shot to start against. Let’s hope for the latter.