My notepad landed in the kitchen.
Like most of you, I remember exactly where I was on December 29, 2019. The New England Patriots were four quarters away from a first-round playoff bye, and a solid chance at advancing to another AFC Championship Game. All that was standing in their way was the Miami Dolphins.
Since it was a work day, and I had an installment of The Scho Show to do when the game ended, I was camped in front of the television, notepad in front of me, scribbling down notes on every play for what I hoped — we all hoped — would be a “Glorious Victory” edition of the show.
Then, the impossible happened. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Flores’ merry band of misfits came into Gillette Stadium and in the blink of an eye, dashed the hopes of the Foxborough Faithful.
When the Dolphins’ journeyman quarterback hit Mike Gesicki in the back of the end zone with 29 seconds left, I did not need to take any more notes. So that notepad flew, out of my left hand and across the living room, coming to a rest with a thud on the kitchen tile.
Much like the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick Era would end a week later, with a thud.
Many of New England’s 2019 flaws came into clarity in that loss, but something we perhaps did not expect to see was Stephon Gilmore on the wrong end of a matchup: DeVante Parker came into Gillette and hung eight catches on the board for 137 yards, many of them coming against Gilmore. Let’s revisit that afternoon, and many of those catches, as we look ahead to the rematch.
The first of those was perhaps the most bizarre completion allowed by the Patriots’ defender since Keenan Allen beat him for a touchdown at the start of the Patriots 2018-2019 Divisional Round game against the Los Angeles Chargers:
On this play Parker is matched up against Gilmore on the left side of the formation:
At first blush this looks like a double-move, given how Gilmore reacts, making it a replica of that Allen touchdown. But upon review Parker is just running a straight vertical route, maybe with a slight bend to the outside, but Gilmore squats like he expects a hitch. Fitzpatrick does nothing to influence the CB — nary a flinch — but when Gilmore sits down Parker accelerates past him for the completion.
Just a few plays later, Parker spun Gilmore into the Gillette Stadium turf on this exotic out pattern:
Parker begins this play aligned on the left side of the formation, but motions across the ball and Gilmore trails him. The receiver runs an out route, but sells Gilmore first on a vertical route, and then on a potential post, before breaking outside for the reception.
Watch the cornerback’s hips here. Gilmore opens them early, fearing the vertical route, and then when Parker gets into the blind spot and cuts inside, Gilmore is forced to open his hips again on the baseball turn to the middle of the field. That is when Parker slices back towards the sideline, getting a huge amount of separation. The receiver does a masterful job at getting into Gilmore’s blind spot and leaving him guessing. This will be something we see in crunch time.
Later in the second quarter, Gilmore gets the better of Parker on another vertical route:
On this play Gilmore is much more patient with his hips, only firing them when Parker has declared his intentions. That allows Gilmore to stay in position longer, and then fight through the catch point to disrupt the throw. But Gilmore’s hips will remain something watch both from last year, and on Sunday.
The balance shifts back to Parker in the second half, particularly on these three fourth quarter receptions. First up is a look we might see from the Patriots on Sunday, Cover 0:
Last year the Patriots loved to bring pressure and play straight Cover 0 behind it, trusting in their secondary to lock down the opponent’s receivers. This led to some huge plays for the Patriots’ defense early in the year, but as offenses started to figure it out, it let New England down later in the season. Here, Gilmore knows that he has no safety help over the top, so he gives Parker cushion before the snap. Yet he still thinks the vertical route is coming, and transitions into run mode when Parker cuts under him.
Again, look at his hips on this play, and how he opens them up and bails expecting a vertical route.
Now is a good time to mention what happened in Week 16. Playing on Saturday night in a must-win game, the Patriots emerged victorious against the Buffalo Bills. But in that contest John Brown caught a touchdown on a deep post route that many attributed to a mistake by Gilmore:
John Brown took Gilmore to receiver school. pic.twitter.com/7Nj0cXpeS6— NFL Unwrapped (@NFLunwrapped) December 22, 2019
Now, the true culprit here was safety Devin McCourty, but watching Gilmore a week later wary of vertical routes has me wondering if this moment was in the back of his mind during Week 17. Given how he opens his hips prematurely, preparing for the vertical route, seems to be a bit of a tell.
On the game-winning drive from Miami, Parker had two more receptions. This one comes on a, you guessed it, vertical route:
Gilmore just loses sight of the football.
It’s important to highlight that Patriots’ defensive backs are taught to play the catch point, and rake up through the pocket of the receiver, and not turn to locate the football or swipe down on the receiver’s arms. For a discussion of this, you can see this clinic presentation Matt Patricia gave at Notre Dame while he was with the Patriots, fast-forwarding to around the 37-minute mark:
But on this play Gilmore loses sight of the catch point and cannot rake up through the pocket, and Parker pulls down the reception.
Parker’s final catch comes on this play, with under a minute left:
Here, Gilmore is playing off coverage and protecting the goal line, and he is willing to concede this short reception.
But the fact of the matter is, Gilmore was bested by Parker on many occasions that Sunday. Whether it was a hangover from the Brown play the week prior, or Parker’s route-running (as it seemed on that exotic out route) we cannot be sure. Perhaps it was a combination thereof. But with Parker in position to play Sunday after missing time during training camp, how this rematch between CB and WR plays out will go a long way towards determining out this rematch of Week 17 ends up.
There are many storylines to watch this upcoming Sunday, but the rematch between these two players is one to certainly keep an eye on. Here’s hoping that my newest notepad is not turned into a flying saucer around four eastern...