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The secret to the Saints’ red zone success? The data says it’s not Taysom Hill

Aaron Schatz from Football Outsiders argues that the Saints succeeded because of passing, not rushing

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Taysom Hill celebrates after scoring a touchdown for the New Orleans Saints in 2018.

Taysom Hill (7) of the New Orleans Saints celebrates after scoring a touchdown during an NFL preseason football game against the Los Angeles Chargers Saturday, Aug. 25, 2018, in Carson, Calif.

Jae C. Hong, Associated Press

The New Orleans Saints were among the best in the league in the red zone last year, but quarterback-turned-tight-end Taysom Hill had little to do with their success, according to Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders.

In a column for ESPN, Schatz argued that passing was a much more significant part of the Saints’ red-zone offense than Hill’s rushing ability. “The Saints were No. 1 passing in the red zone, but ranked 25th running in the red zone,” he wrote.

Hill fans might respond to this argument by pointing out that the former BYU quarterback also threw some touchdowns for the Saints last season. After starting quarterback Jameis Winston got injured, Hill earned the starting spot for five games.

Schatz seemed to anticipate this pushback and addressed Hill’s passing stats in his piece. The team’s “pass DVOA in the red zone plummeted after the bye week when Hill took over as the full-time quarterback,” he said. (DVOA is calculated by comparing a team’s actual performance on a play against its expected performance.)

Schatz’s overall point in the column was that data analysis often disproves assumptions. He highlighted at least one surprising stat for every team, showing, among other things, that a team’s strengths and weaknesses are often slightly different than what they’re taken to be.

“Many of (these findings) will surprise fans who might expect one thing from a team but get something else,” Schatz wrote.