Top Takeaways From Stephon Gilmore’s NFL Game Pass Film Session


June 9, 2020

The latest episode of “NFL Game Pass Film Session” offered a glimpse into the fascinating mind of New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.

In the 22-minute special, which premiered Tuesday on NFL Game Pass, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year joined analyst Brian Baldinger to explain how he’s utilized exhaustive film study, textbook technique and trust in other members of the Patriots’ vaunted secondary to become the league’s premier corner.

Here are some of the highlights, broken down by game:

Last year’s Dolphins’ offensive coordinator, Chad O’Shea, had spent the previous decade in New England, so Gilmore expected to see several Patriots concepts when the teams met in mid-September.

“I know that the (Dolphins) coaches over there came from New England,” Gilmore said. “This was early in the season, and I was just trying to trust it, envision myself going against our offense and trust in myself.”

That strategy worked. The Patriots won 43-0, and Gilmore had a hand in two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown and tipping a pass over Parker’s head to safety Devin McCourty for another.

“I was able to undercut (the route) because I trust those guys — I trust Devin on the back end,” Gilmore said. “(If Parker) does anything else, he?s got me over the top. Any time you?ve got trust on the back end like that, you don?t have to worry. You can just play aggressive.”

Of course, the second Patriots-Dolphins matchup didn’t turn out nearly as well, for New England or for Gilmore.

One of Gilmore’s most comprehensive performances came in this Thursday night rout. With rookie quarterback Daniel Jones showing a surprising willingness to target the star corner, Gilmore intercepted one pass and broke up four others, with one of those breakups resulting in an interception for teammate John Simon.

Gilmore was still kicking himself over a play he didn’t make, though.

“I should have had a pick-six right here,” he said as he watched a Jones pass bounce off his hands and fall incomplete. “This one hurt. I couldn’t sleep after this game. … I just felt super mad, because you did the hard part. Catching it should be the easy part. You go through all the hard stuff to get there, and you don’t make the play.”

Gilmore said he knew which route receiver Cody Latimer would run on the play and used soft coverage to induce a throw.

“I wanted him to throw it,” Gilmore said. “I wanted it to look like he?s open. I?m just looking at the quarterback. I know they?re quick-passing team, especially on third down. They love slants and stuff. You?ve got to play the game in your head, and that?s what goes on in my head. It?s a young quarterback; he?s looking to get the ball out fast. I?m not worried about (Latimer) running past me.

“It was a good play. It should have been a great play. I should have run this back. It?s hard to forget about it, but you have to, because there?s a lot more plays after that you have to make.”

Gilmore used similar tactics on the interception he did catch, drifting beneath an out-breaking route by tight end Rhett Ellison for an easy pick.

“Daniel Jones, he’s a good young quarterback, but he hasn’t seen a lot,” Gilmore said. “I was just trying to bait him. (Ellison) looked open, but I’m looking at him.”

Robby Anderson must be relieved to be out of the AFC East.

In five games against Gilmore since the cornerback joined the Patriots in 2017, the former Jets receiver has caught just 10 passes on 29 targets for 69 yards and no touchdowns. Gilmore’s coverage numbers against Anderson in those meetings: 16 targets, four catches, 22 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, four pass breakups.

Gilmore hasn’t been shy about calling Anderson, now with the Carolina Panthers, out for his lack of physicality, which he did again during his Game Pass special.

“I know he?s a speedy guy, got great speed,” Gilmore said. “Not really that physical but can run.”

In the infamous “Seeing Ghosts” game last season, the Patriots liberally utilized zero blitzes (man coverage with no safety help) to bamboozle Jets quarterback Sam Darnold into four interceptions. Gilmore notched one of those by undercutting a crossing route by Anderson, who finished with one catch on eight targets for 10 yards.

“I?m not looking at him, because I pretty much know where he?s going off film study, off knowing who I?m going against,” Gilmore said. “He?s a speed guy; he needs all that space. So I was able to make that play.”

“(Playing Cover Zero) is a lot of pressure,” he added. “But when you trust your teammates, then there?s no pressure.”

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Stephon Gilmore: one interception. Amari Cooper: zero catches.

That was the final line on Gilmore’s thoroughly dominant showing against one of the NFL’s premier receivers.

Gilmore broke down his interception with Baldinger.

“They ran this route early in the game — the same exact route,” he explained. “I said, ‘OK, Dallas, if they run routes during a game, they start repeating the routes.’ So I knew it was coming. I said, ‘OK, I’m not going to get physical with him. I’m just going to undercut him and run with him. I’ve got a safety over the top. There’s no way he’s running that fast and then stopping and going somewhere else, so I undercut it and was able to make a play.

“As soon as he released inside, I knew where he was going. It was all about beating him to the spot then.”

Part of what made the Patriots’ defensive backs so effective last season was their aggressive play at the catch point. You’d often see them punch or rip balls out of receivers’ hands before they could establish possession — an underrated skill that led to numerous incompletions.

Gilmore broke down one such play against Kansas City. Chiefs receiver Sammy Watkins got his hands on a deep ball from Patrick Mahomes, but Gilmore was able to swat the ball to the turf to prevent a long completion.

“That’s one thing that I try to do a good job is on the finish,” Gilmore said. “Sometimes, they may catch it, but you can always punch it out. He’s got to go to the ground. The finish is the most important.”

This was the game that solidified Gilmore’s Defensive Player of the Year case. He tallied two interceptions, including a pick-six; broke up two passes and silenced 1,000-yard receiver Tyler Boyd, holding him to three catches on seven targets for 26 yards.

?Andy Dalton, he tried me a couple of times in this game,” Gilmore said. “I was following Boyd. I followed him the whole game.”

Knowing what his assignment would be, Gilmore said he studied film on Boyd from every possible alignment. That allowed him to find tells in the receiver’s game.

“In my head, I’m thinking, ‘OK, if he hesitates, he’s running an out route,’ ” Gilmore said as video of his pick-six rolled. “He ran a hesitation right here at the top (of his route), and he rounded it a little bit. He didn’t really break. He rounded it. I was able to see the quarterback and break. I can’t believe he threw it.”

Gilmore knew which route Boyd was running on both of his interceptions.

“I study a lot,” Gilmore said. “There’s probably not one route that he’s ran or that any guy’s ran that caught the ball that I haven’t saw. They’re not going to throw the ball to him if it hasn’t worked all year. They’re going to try to do the same thing.”

Like the Giants game, Gilmore came away from this one lamenting a missed opportunity.

“I should have had three picks this game,” he said. “I had two.”

This game featured one of Gilmore’s few coverage blunders. John Brown beat him with a double move for a 53-yard touchdown that put Buffalo ahead midway through the third quarter.

There initially was some uncertainty over whether Gilmore or McCourty was to blame for the coverage bust, but Gilmore took ownership, saying he made a mistake by not jamming Brown at the line. Gilmore took three steps backward just before the snap, giving the speedy wideout a free release.

“One thing I think I should have did right here is — I?m on John Brown, he?s a speed guy — I should have stayed down (in press coverage) and gotten my hands on him,” Gilmore explained. “If I would have gotten my hands on him — because he wouldn?t have gotten open. He wouldn?t have had that move. He wouldn?t have been running that fast on me.”

Gilmore said he immediately recognized his error. He remained on Brown for the rest of the game and didn’t allow him to catch another pass. Brown, Buffalo’s leading receiver last season, finished with one reception on four targets.

“I know that I shouldn?t have done that,” Gilmore said. “I was doing it for an unselfish reason, (but) you?ve got to take it on the head. You know what you did wrong, so move on. I think he caught one pass in the game, and that was that. I stayed up there for the rest of the game. It was a great play by them, great throw.”

NFL Game Pass is available free through July 31. Gilmore’s “Film Session” episode also will air on NFL Network on June 13.

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Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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