As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare for a big game against the New Orleans Saints, they aren’t completely sure which quarterback they’ll be facing. Long-time starter and future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees hasn’t played since Week 10 while recovering from a plethora of broken ribs.
He did return to practice this week — but Saints’ head coach Sean Payton said Brees’ chances at returning will come down to how well he feels as he practices.
In his place, fourth-year quarterback Taysom Hill has stepped in and helped the Saints to a 3-1 record. The winning may have stayed constant, but the playstyle did not. Hill is as different of a quarterback from Brees as there can be — but that isn’t changing anything for Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
“No question they’re different,” Spagnuolo confirmed in his Thursday presser. “You’re talking about a future Hall of Famer and a guy that’s playing really good football that gives us the added threat of running the ball. We need to defend the scheme, they do really well with whoever they put back there. There’s a lot of weapons there besides the guy that gets the ball on the snap. We’ll just try to defend the scheme this week. We’ll try to make in-game adjustments; we got a staff of coaches that do a great job of that so that’s how we’ll approach it.”
The main contrast between the two signal-callers is Hill’s ability to run. While he is fast and quick, the most noticeable trait of his is the physical running style. He’ll put a shoulder into you as a running back would.
Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu recognizes the challenge of defending a player that has that skill set.
“Taysom Hill, he just brings that extra factor to the offense,” Mathieu told reporters on Thursday. “He’s a tough, hard-nosed quarterback; I don’t think I can really compare anybody to him, he’s in a bracket of his own. He embraces contact, so we’ll have to do a great job at all three levels.”
There aren’t many quarterbacks like Hill. There are a lot of athletic quarterbacks who can make plays with their feet — but none as willing to plow into someone like Hill. However, there was one other quarterback that came to Spagnuolo’s mind.
“We didn’t go against Cam Newton when we played the [New England] Patriots, but we prepared for him and they had plays in there that were power quarterback plays,” Spagnuolo began. “I think when a quarterback can throw as well as [Hill] can, play that position as well as he does, and be a power runner — that’s pretty impressive. That’s a little bit Cam Newton-ish, and we know what Cam’s all about when he gets rolling.”
While Hill may run hard, his grip on the football is apparently soft. In the four games since he took over as the starter for Brees, he has fumbled six times — losing three of them to the opposition. For the season, Hill has fumbled 10 total times; that is the second-most by any player in the NFL.
Mathieu confirmed that the Chiefs are aware of this trend.
“Coach Spags made that a point of emphasis today,” Mathieu revealed in reference to creating turnovers. “I think the Saints are pretty high as far as lost fumbles this season. We understand that everyone has to get a hat to the football, and I think a big part of creating turnovers is not just interceptions; we have to be able to punch the ball out. That’s definitely the mindset going into this weekend.”
To back up Mathieu’s statement: The Saints have lost the 10th-most fumbles among NFL teams this season.
As they prepare for Hill and his unique quarterbacking style, Mathieu recognizes that they could end up seeing Brees on Sunday as well. They’ll just have to stay on their toes.
“Right now, the focus is Taysom Hill,” Mathieu asserted. “We all know what Drew Brees can do; we all know the kind of quarterback he is: a rhythm passer, a guy that wants to get the ball into his playmakers’ hands. Whereas Taysom, he has that other factor; obviously he can tuck and run it. Anytime you’re preparing for a hall of fame quarterback, it’s always difficult — but we embrace that competition. If Drew Brees comes out, we’ll be ready — our antennas will be up. As long as Taysom is in there, we understand it’s going to be a physical, hard-nosed football game.”
While a static, pocket passer like Brees can benefit the Chiefs’ pass rush, it can also result in the pass defense getting carved up — especially if one of the league’s best offensive lines continues to play well.
It goes without saying, but the Chiefs are much better off in this contest if Hill is the starter.