For most of his NFL career, Taysom Hill has been more curiosity than anything else. He’s been a package player, an Internet meme, and a Twitter joke.
But Sunday against Atlanta, in his first start directing the Saints, Hill looked like a bonafide professional quarterback.
Taysom Hill passes the test
Hill was the second-best fantasy QB in Week 11’s early window, playing well in a 24-9 victory over Atlanta. Hill threw for 233 yards, ran for 51 more, and picked up a couple of rushing touchdowns. He clicked on 18-of-23 pass attempts, a tidy 78 percent.
There were occasional hiccups, to be fair — Hill lost a fumble, took three sacks, and threw a sure pick at the goal line that the Falcons charitably dropped. But you can make any quarterback look bad if you cherry-pick a few select plays. Hill’s body of work was effective and passed the two tests that matter to us, the stat test and the eye test.
Oh, Hill passed the eye test, all right. Head coach Sean Payton ran Hill on several power packages, often on third and fourth down. Hill’s first touchdown came on a fourth-and-goal play, where the offense plowed straight ahead and asked Hill to decisively plunge off tackle. Mission accomplished. Payton knows the Saints have a chain-moving weapon here. And fantasy players understand how advantageous a rushing quarterback is.
Hill’s second touchdown came on a broken play, an against-his-body scramble when the Falcons covered everything downfield. After the design touchdown in the first half, Hill posted an athletic clip for his second score.
Hill’s game was also the magic elixir Michael Thomas was looking for. Thomas was targeted early and often (12 of the 23 passes were for him), en route to a nine-catch, 104-yard afternoon. The Saints were proactive with Thomas, and not just on shallow routes. He could have posted an even bigger afternoon, if not for one dropped pass and one missed connection that drew a defensive penalty. Finally, Thomas looks back in form, closing in on 100 percent.
How healthy was Alvin Kamara? That’s open to question. Kamara was limited to 45 yards on 13 carries, and he dropped his only target, a screen play that the Falcons blew up. Kamara missed some time during the practice week, nursing a sore foot. He didn’t look notably compromised Sunday, but perhaps the Saints didn’t want to push him. He played 48 percent of the snaps, his lowest number this year.
It’s the first time in Kamara’s career he’s gone without a catch. A short touchdown run buoyed his fantasy value but was little consolation to his managers; Hill, after all, had two rushing scores. Kamara wasn’t even on the field when Hill plowed in for his first touchdown.
Latavius Murray was active, playing about half of the snaps. He ran 12 times for 49 yards and turned two well-designed screens into 36 yards. No one mistakes Murray’s game for Kamara’s electric skills, but both backs are capable of contributing.
The other Saints player to click was Emmanuel Sanders, who posted a solid 66-yard afternoon. He would have smashed his projection if not for a flag — Sanders had a 57-yard touchdown wiped out by an offensive holding penalty. Jared Cook had just one catch, while two other plays were nixed by penalty (one on the defense, one on him).
Too long, didn’t read? The stock is certainly up for Hill and Thomas, while Sanders at least held his value. The Saints took more downfield shots Sunday than they normally do with the 2020 version of Drew Brees. Kamara, we’ll have to check on the foot. And let’s also salute the Saints defense, which hounded Matt Ryan into eight sacks and two interceptions.
So much for all those Jameis Winston pickups. The Saints know who their guy is. Payton’s getting the last laugh on us all.
Denver’s defense (and thin air) is a challenge in Week 12, but Hill looked good enough to start anywhere. It’s the beginning of a three-game road trip for the Saints; the Atlanta rematch is in Week 13, then a Philadelphia visit in Week 14.
Deshaun Watson picks on struggling Patriots defense
The league is so rich at the quarterback position, it’s easy to forget Deshaun Watson sometimes. The Texans stumbled to an 0-4 start, sacking head coach Bill O’Brien in the process.
But Watson hasn’t gone anywhere; he just needs some help. He received that assistance Sunday, en route to a 27-20 victory over New England. Watson threw for 344 yards and two touchdowns and added a third score on the ground (Watson ran for 36 yards in all; his teammates picked up the other 19). New England offered little resistance; Watson wasn’t sacked or intercepted.
Although Watson farmed his scoring passes to non-fantasy entities — Randall Cobb, on a play that injured him; Keke Coutee caught the second score — his main targets did just fine. Brandon Cooks posted a solid 4-85-0 line win five targets, Will Fuller made 6-80-0 out of eight looks, and finally healthy, tight end Jordan Akins was dynamic (5-83-0, six targets). I’m excited to use any of these options going forward, including Akins at the paper-thin tight end position.
And don’t let the name brand fool you, the Patriots defense is a cushy fantasy matchup. Sure, Bill Belichick is on the sideline, and Stephon Gilmore was able to play Sunday. Nonetheless, New England entered the day ranked 31st in YPA allowed, and dead last in Defensive DVOA. The jerseys and helmets look the same, but this is not the same old Patriots. Go where the points are.
Watson & Friends travel to Detroit for a Thanksgiving game, if the Lions can be located; Matt Patricia’s crew hardly showed up in Sunday’s 20-0 loss at Carolina. The Patriots are probably dead in the water, now 4-6; their next five games are mostly against contending opponents (Cardinals, Chargers, Rams, Dolphins, Bills).
• Justin Herbert continued to rack up the points (366 yards, three touchdowns), doing whatever he wanted against the Jets. He took three sacks, was not intercepted. But while Herbert is one of several quarterbacks producing just about every week, his reliance on Keenan Allen (16-145-1, on 19 targets) turns Allen into one of fantasy’s Top 5 overall players. There’s nothing wrong with Mike Williams and Hunter Henry as secondary options, but the Chargers know where their bread is buttered.
• Watch that absurd A.J. Brown touchdown, then watch it again. Now ask yourself why Brown doesn’t have a single double-digit target game in 2020. The Titans want to be balanced, that’s fine. They want Derrick Henry to wear down defenses, that’s reasonable. But asking Brown to live in the 4-9 target range every week is a gift to opponents. I’ll live with Brown’s occasional drop; his jaw-dropping upside easily makes up for it.
• The Dolphins were probably overrated after a three-week tour of favorable bounces and runbacks; it caught up to them at Denver, where the Broncos had a decisive 237-yard advantage. Miami won the turnover battle, 2-to-1, but Denver had six sacks to Miami’s zero.
Perhaps Brian Flores benched Tua Tagovailoa for his own protection; the Broncos had the rookie quarterback under constant duress. It’s a shame Denver doesn’t have a league-average or better quarterback, because this offense has outstanding skill talent at every position.
• Baker Mayfield continues to be a game manager for the Browns, and there’s nothing exciting in his pass-receiving group. Jarvis Landry (two targets Sunday) still doesn’t have a touchdown catch. Austin Hooper has been quiet since his return. Kareem Hunt had one amazing touchdown run, but don’t kid yourself; Nick Chubb is the alpha in this backfield.
• Carson Wentz never got comfortable in Cleveland, and while the rain and the Browns defense had a say in that, a 6.7 YPA doesn’t cut it, especially when you mix in two picks and five sacks. Philly has a scant half-game lead over the rest of the NFC East, and when you consider the nasty schedule waiting for the Eagles (next four: Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans, Arizona), I don’t see this team going anywhere. Maybe the jig is up with Doug Pederson, too.
• Jonathan Taylor finally had the breakout game his managers have waited for all year, if 114 yards (without a touchdown) will satisfy you. But the Colts view their three backs as uniquely talented, which means Taylor isn’t even guaranteed to be the featured guy next week against Tennessee. If you prefer a half-full approach, the Colts have two appetizing Houston games remaining (Week 13 and 15).
• There’s no reason to sack Matt Patricia right this second, but hard to image him surviving Black Monday. The Lions hit a new low in the shutout loss to Carolina, when you consider that the Panthers were starting an unheralded backup quarterback and entered the week with the sixth-worst defense in the league.
Detroit finished with 10 first downs and 185 total yards; the 20-0 final doesn’t fully illustrate how awful the Lions were. Yes, D’Andre Swift and Kenny Golladay are premium losses, but it doesn’t excuse a flat tire like this. The Lions did have a long touchdown pass (Marvin Jones, off a flea-flicker) nullified by penalty.
• The Patriots offense couldn’t be faulted for the Houston loss; Cam Newton’s crew rolled up 22 first downs and 435 total yards, without a turnover. Newton did it mostly with his arm (365 yards), while running just three times. Jakobi Meyers had the downfield work to himself for a few weeks, but Damiere Byrd (6-132-1, plus an 11-yard run) pushed into the picture Sunday. Eight targets to N’Keal Harry proved wasteful, as usual (5-41-0).
• Dallas was pesky against Pittsburgh in Week 9, a result that was hard to explain. It looks far more legitimate after Sunday’s impressive upset at Minnesota. The offensive line is starting to heal up, and the defense isn’t as leaky as what we saw in September and October. Dallas is no longer a doormat; this is a team that should compete against most opponents. Heck, it’s the NFC East, you can’t rule anyone out. The Giants, according to one set of metrics, are now the divisional favorites.
• The Steelers offense has a funny tint to it; as exciting as the receiver group is, Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t throw intermediate and deep as often as you might expect. Three of Pittsburgh’s four primary pass catchers (Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron) made or exceeded Week 11 expectations, but Big Ben averaged less than six yards per attempt in the win over Jacksonville. Everyone respects the 2020 Steelers, but they don’t feel as dominant as most 10-0 teams generally do. I look forward to the stiffer challenges ahead.
• The Ravens looked broken entering Week 11; perhaps they’re upgraded to a sprain. Mothballing Mark Ingram was a positive step for the offense; J.K. Dobbins looked ready for a featured role. Mark Andrews finally got moving, too. But take the loss on Hollywood Brown; he had a bad drop Sunday and was only targeted three times (zero catches).