The Arizona Cardinals’ offense will miss its longest-tenured member on Sunday, with veteran wide receiver and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald having tested positive for the Coronavirus. However, the main event during Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots would have been a different one even with Fitzgerald in the lineup: DeAndre Hopkins versus Stephon Gilmore.
Hopkins and Gilmore are two of the best players the NFL has to offer at their respective positions, and two who are quite familiar with each other. They have met three times since Gilmore arrived in New England in 2017, with the Patriots’ number one cornerback seeing considerable action one-on-one against Hopkins each time. Along the way, Hopkins caught a combined 20 passes on 26 targets for 218 yards.
While the four-time Pro Bowler is now on another team — he was sent to the Cardinals from the Houston Texans as part of a highly controversial trade this offseason — his status has not changed. He is still one of the league’s premier pass catchers, and a player who will command special attention on every snap.
From the Patriots’ perspective, this means using their number one cover guy on Hopkins again. Stephon Gilmore already hinted at the matchup during a recent appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand show.
“I think everybody knows,” the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year answered when asked about his assignment.
Gilmore and Hopkins going against each other will not just be must-watch television, but also the continuation of a battle that extended from the field to social media last year. The then-Texans tweeted the words “when you see 10 double” him after the game against New England — one during which he caught five passes for 64 yards — with Gilmore taking exception and pointing out that Hopkins was doubled on just two of his 46 snaps that day.
Of course, the NFL is a “do your talk on the field” league and Sunday’s game between the Patriots presents another opportunity for both players to show how they perform against each other.
While it remains to be seen whether or not Gilmore will exclusively be employed against Hopkins, which is doubtful given New England’s tendency to mix man and zone looks, Bill Belichick expressed confidence in his team’s top cornerback regardless of who he lines up against. The Patriots’ head coach was asked during a media conference call on Wednesday about having a defender like Gilmore follow and opposing pass catcher.
“When you set up your defensive game plan, you try to create advantages for yourself or try to deal with the things that your opponent does and there are a lot of things to take into consideration. There are pluses and minuses to matching up. So, if we feel like it’s advantageous, then we would consider it. If we don’t feel like it’s advantageous, then we wouldn’t do it that week. There are a number of factors that go into that,” Belichick said.
“But, I’d say Steph overall has done a pretty good job of covering just about everybody he’s covered. So, I don’t think there are too many situations that would take us out of not wanting to put him on a certain player.”
So far this season, both Hopkins and Gilmore have played at a high level again. The Cardinals’ number one wide receiver has caught 72 passes for 912 yards and four touchdowns. Gilmore, meanwhile, has given up 14 receptions on 26 targets for 227 yards with one touchdown and interception each.
Needless to say that Sunday’s battle between the two, no matter for how many snaps, will be a marquee matchup.