New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore entered the NFL as the 10th overall pick by the Buffalo Bills in the 2012 NFL Draft, so Sunday’s game was a homecoming of sorts. The Bills made the curious decision to welcome Gilmore back to Buffalo by targeting him time and time again.
Let’s just say that it didn’t go as the Bills might have hoped.
“I'm not surprised,” Gilmore said about his reception back in Buffalo. “You know how it is. They are fans, and they feel some type of way that I am on the Patriots, so it's all good... [Changing teams is] part of how it is and how its run. It is what it is. I know what type of player I am. They've got handle whatever they've got going and I am happy over here where I'm at.”
The Bills approached the Patriots goal line in the fourth quarter, trailing 23-3, and they decided to put Gilmore at the center of every target, including the fourth-down attempt.
“They threw it my way three or four times in the red zone,” Gilmore said. “I'm like, ‘They really trying to score a touchdown on me no matter how much they are down.’’
Gilmore’s teammates were laughing at Buffalo’s decision to target the star cornerback and were impressed at how he handled the attention.
“It kind of seemed like they wanted to score a touchdown on him,” free safety Devin McCourty said. “A lot of balls in the end zone, and he came up probably about four or five PBU's today, so he's been great for us. He's been pretty steady, going out there and playing guys tough with man-to-man coverage. We needed that today.”
Let’s break down these plays.
Gilmore is aligned at the bottom of the screen against rookie receiver Zay Jones. Jones is trying to run an out and up, with the route suggesting a possible throw at the goal line to try and get Gilmore to bite, before Jones turns up the field to the back corner of the end zone.
Gilmore defends this play perfectly and punches the ball out of Jones’ hands as they come down to the turf. This was a one-on-one defensive play by Gilmore without any combination routes. It was simply a well-executed defense by the cornerback.
Gilmore is on the far side of the screen, again in one-on-one. A combo route develops in front of him as the tight end and slot receiver run a crossing pattern meant to pick the coverage (Jordan Richards and Duron Harmon do a really good job of avoiding the contact), but Gilmore is stopping Jones in man coverage.
Gilmore positions himself to take away the inside route by Jones, forcing the receiver to either run the fade or run into the defensive back. Gilmore has the right to his part of the field and erases the in cut by Jones as the pass in their direction falls incomplete.
Gilmore and Jordan Richards are covering receivers on the far side of the field with Devin McCourty providing assistance over the top. The Bills motion in Jones to create a stack with LeSean McCoy because they want to stress the communication between Gilmore and Richards.
McCourty’s job is to take away the inside passing lane and Gilmore takes the outside leverage on Jones, leaving McCoy to run outside against Richards. Peterman waits to see if Jones gets free and when he doesn’t he opts to throw to McCoy. Richards makes a nice open field tackle at the one-yard line, but this is another play where the Bills wanted to test Gilmore, in this instance about his communication.
Gilmore is again in man coverage against Jones and the Bills throw a low-percentage fade route, which Gilmore easily swats away.
So on four straight plays by the goal line, the Bills directly target Gilmore three times, with two passes broken up and a route disrupted, and they wanted to target Gilmore a fourth time, but settled for a check down to McCoy.
Gilmore had an outstanding day against the Bills, allowing just two receptions on six targets for 22 yards. Pro Football Focus reports that Gilmore “has allowed a passer rating of just 2.8 over the last two weeks, which is the second-lowest for any cornerback in the NFL over that time span.”
The Patriots big-ticket signing has been worth the price and he’s getting better and more comfortable every week. The Bills will have to think twice about targeting him in the rematch- and they’ll be kicking themselves for letting him walk.