When the New England Patriots signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract over the offseason, their Week 7 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons had to be in the forefront of their minds.
Gilmore, at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, is an ideal matchup for Falcons All-Pro receiver Julio Jones. He already proved he could limit a big, Pro Bowl-caliber receiver in Week 5 when he kept Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans in check. Unfortunately, Gilmore now has missed the Patriots’ Week 6 matchup with the New York Jets and two consecutive practices with a concussion.
It’s unclear when Gilmore suffered the brain injury. He practiced Wednesday, Thursday and Friday last week then didn’t make the trip to New Jersey and was ruled out Saturday. The Patriots only held a walk-through Saturday.
Gilmore experienced headaches after his Week 5 battle with Evans, in which the players banged heads, a source told ESPN’s Josina Anderson. Based on the Patriots’ injury report, it wasn’t diagnosed as a concussion until Saturday, more than a week after the Week 5 Thursday night matchup.
Complicating matters for Sunday is that Eric Rowe, another big Patriots cornerback at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, also continues to miss practice with a groin injury. Rowe, who held his own against Jones in Super Bowl LI, seems unlikely to play.
That leaves the Patriots with Malcolm Butler, Jonathan Jones and Johnson Bademosi as their only healthy cornerbacks. New England also could elect to sign a cornerback, either Ryan Lewis or Jomal Wiltz, off its practice squad. The Patriots are paying Lewis a rookie minimum salary, rather than practice squad money, so it wouldn’t hurt their books to bring him up. The Patriots easily could move linebacker Harvey Langi, who suffered serious injuries in a car accident, to the non-football injury list in order to bring up Lewis.
Bademosi, who’s 6 feet, 206 pounds, has the best size to cover Jones. Bademosi played well against Jets top receiver Jermaine Kearse on Sunday, allowing just two catches on two targets. Kearse is not Julio Jones, however, and those were Bademosi’s first defensive snaps of the season. He mostly has been used in a special-teams role throughout his six-year career.
The Patriots trusted Butler to cover Jones at times in the Super Bowl. Rowe, Butler and Logan Ryan, who left for the Tennessee Titans in free agency, all took shots against the star receiver and limited him to four catches on four targets for 87 yards.
Jonathan Jones, even though he’s only 5-foot-10, also could see some action against Jones in certain matchups, though it’s less than ideal given his size and inexperience.
Unless the Patriots want to match up Bademosi on Julio Jones with constant safety help in the form of double coverage or bracketing from free safeties Devin McCourty and Duron Harmon, then the most likely solution to covering the two-time All-Pro would be to have their cornerbacks play sides. And wherever Julio Jones is lined up, Harmon and McCourty will have eyes on the big, speedy wideout.
The Patriots’ defense already has struggled this season. Being without Gilmore and Rowe against one of the NFL’s best receivers adds another layer of difficulty.
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