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Film Review: CB Stephon Gilmore’s growth turned the Patriots defense around and his improvement was evident against the Titans

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The Patriots star cornerback has been outstanding since his return to the field.

Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore allowed just one reception all game against the Tennessee Titans after he misread the route combination and didn’t see his coverage responsibility until it was too late. That was his only mistake of the game as he otherwise shut down any and all Titans receiver that crossed his path.

Over the first four weeks of the season, Gilmore was atrocious and his struggles were a major part of why the Patriots defense was the worst in the NFL. Gilmore showed signs of improvement in week 5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but a concussion and ankle injury sidelined him until after the bye week so any growth was going to be delayed.

Since week 9, Gilmore has been arguably the most reliable player on the New England defense and one of the best cornerbacks in the entire NFL, and Film Room’s Sam Gold looked at his performance against the Titans to see how he’s changed since the start of the year.

Gold finds that Gilmore has greatly improved the consistency of his technique and his communication, which allows every other player on the defense to do their job at a higher level.

The big weakness for the Patriots over the first four weeks, Gold reported, was their defense on first down. Over the first four weeks of the year, Patriots opponents averaged 8.1 yards on first down, which was easily the worst mark in the NFL. This meant that teams would average a second-and-two against New England.

And Gilmore wasn’t just part of a bad defense- he was a driving cause. Gilmore played well against the Buccaneers and they averaged just 6.85 yards on first down, but the defense allowed an improved 6.57 yards on first down in the three games Gilmore missed with an injury.

But the defense and Gilmore changed for the much better after the bye week and into the playoffs as the Patriots allowed a low average of 4.88 yards on first down, the ninth-best mark in the NFL. And that is despite having faced the highest rate of passing of any team allowing less than 5 yards on first down, which naturally yields more yards.

The health of the New England defense wasn’t consistent down the final stretch, either, with defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Alan Branch missing time; edge defender Trey Flowers and linebacker Kyle Van Noy and cornerback Eric Rowe were hurt for extended periods, too.

It was the return of Gilmore and his immediate cohesion with Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, and Jonathan Jones that really set the tone for the defensive improvement, culminating with an outstanding performance against the Titans.

New England allowed just 3.52 yards on first down to the Titans, their second-best performance all year, and that sets up the Patriots in a great position as prepare for the AFC Championship Game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.