FOXBORO, Mass. — New England Patriots starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe are not the same player. Compare their current contracts, and that’s easy to see.
But they share enough of the same traits that it gives the Patriots an advantage when they play across the field from one another.
Gilmore is listed at 6-foot-1, 202 pounds. He has 31-inch arms, 9 1/4-inch hands and ran a 4.40-second 40-yard dash with a 1.52-second 10-yard split, 36-inch vertical leap, 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump, 3.94-second short shuttle and 6.61-second 3-cone coming out of South Carolina in 2012.
Rowe is listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. He has 31 1/2-inch arms, 9 1/2-inch hands and ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash with a 1.56-second 10-yard split, 39-inch vertical leap, 10-foot, 5-inch broad jump, 3.97-second short shuttle and 6.70-second 3-cone drill coming out of Utah in 2015.
They not only have very similar builds, but they share a similarly elite physical makeup.
Bill Belichick acknowledged there are some advantages to having them play on opposite sides of the field.
“Yeah, there could be,” Belichick said. “I mean, if the players are somewhat interchangeable then you don’t necessarily have to have a certain matchup, if you’re trying to create a matchup. Yeah, that’s helpful. Or it could be helpful depending on what you’re trying to do and who you’re doing it against. All players are different, but when there are certain similarities that give you an interchangeability between two players, then that lessens the need to one guy always doing one thing and the other guy always doing another thing. It could be.”
The Houston Texans, the Patriots’ Week 1 opponent, have two bigger, dangerous outside weapons in wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Rather than having Gilmore follow Hopkins around the field, the Patriots could just have their cornerbacks play sides and let the Texans dictate the matchup. And the Patriots instead could shift around their safeties to give help over the top on Hopkins.
The Patriots used to have a Hopkins-reducer in cornerback Logan Ryan. Ryan now plays for the Tennessee Titans, and Gilmore matched up on Hopkins most in last season’s matchup. Hopkins was limited to seven catches on eight targets for 76 yards, and Gilmore had an interception. But Gilmore also was penalized for pass interference on Hopkins in a play that resulted in a 34-yard flag.
NFL teams typically deploy two bigger receivers on the boundary and a smaller, shiftier player in the slot. When the Patriots had Gilmore and Malcolm Butler, a smaller player, at cornerback, then Gilmore sometimes had to track the bigger receiver across the field or else Butler, who rarely played in the slot, was stuck in a mismatch. Now with Gilmore and Rowe on the perimeter, perhaps the Patriots can simplify communication by playing sides.
Jonathan Jones and safety Patrick Chung are expected to share slot duties to start the season, but they could be pushed by rookie cornerbacks Duke Dawson and Keion Crossen.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images