This is the last chance to prove the Falcons can put the brakes on a quarterback like Hill.
Taysom Hill is not a starting quarterback for a great football team, as we all know. He’s proven himself to be a capable backup and a player who excels in small doses at enough things to be deeply annoying to other teams and fanbases, but the Saints are not going to go into 2022 with the soon-to-be-32-year-old as their starter. He is starting now, however, and that means he’s the Falcons’ problem this Sunday.
In many ways, Hill is the most appropriate opponent for this Falcons defense to cap the season, given that his strengths match up with their ongoing weaknesses. Atlanta has allowed the third-most rushing yards from quarterbacks in the NFL (413), are tied for the 7th-highest number of rushing touchdowns allowed (4) and have surrendered the most rushing attempts for the position in the entire league. Teams know they can design runs for their quarterbacks and have them succeed, and quarterbacks know they’ll have the time to tuck the ball and run at their leisure given the “strength” of this pass rush.
Hill is an inconsistent passer, but he does have a live arm and he’s found some success on shorter passes this year, as he’s easily at his lowest completed air yards per attempt (3.3) and also yards after the catch for his receivers (459) on four more passing attempts than he had last season. Unfortunately for the Falcons, their weak underbelly has been exposed over and over again, which is why they’ve struggled so much defensively despite allowing zero 40-yard-plus plays this season.
This all matters because Hill can punish the Falcons’ weaknesses as a defense, and they’ve been punished all season by quarterbacks both superior (Josh Allen, Jalen Hurts) and lesser (Tim Boyle, the hollowed out shell of Sam Darnold). To beat the Saints comfortably or perhaps even at all, Atlanta will have to reverse a year-long trend of surrendering easy completions, failing to make the timely tackles that prevent yards after the catch, and keep Hill from picking up productive yards with his legs.
The Saints, curse them, will come in with a gameplan designed to punish the Falcons unless they’re at the top of their game. After they allowed Allen to run 15 times for 81 yards last week and allowed Boyle to complete 70% of his passes against them and keep the Lions in a position to win until his final, ill-fated pass, we can’t assume the Falcons are going to show up with the kind of plan that is going to be a definite Hill-beater.
The Falcons are 0-2 against Hill as a starter after a couple of humiliating 2020 games, and nobody wants to see that move to 0-3. Getting by Hill will mean reversing a lot of the team’s worst defensive trends, in short, and we’ll see if they can put a compelling effort together before their long offseason begins.