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What is the Patriots Plan for Stephon Gilmore?

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Author’s note: I had actually written the headline for this “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Stephon Gilmore?” but then I remembered that when I started writing for Barstool about a dozen years or so ago, I promised myself I’d keep all Sound of Music references in the body of the posts, to avoid confusing our target demo. That’s a pro tip for all you aspiring writers out there.

With that out of the way, what exactly is the plan for Gilmore now that he’ll be dressing for the Denver game?

If this was another team, the question wouldn’t even be worth asking. You’ve sign a guy to a 5-year, $65 million deal with $32 million of it coming in the first two years, you put him out there for as many snaps at it takes to settle his hash. But this is a team where the GM who signed Gilmore and the coach who determines his playing time have the kind of solid, understanding relationship that can only come from being the same person. So nothing with respect to Gilmore is certain.

Except for one thing. The Patriots defense has gotten much better while he’s been out. Consider:

–In the five games Gilmore played, the Pats gave up an average of 28.4 PPG. In the three games he missed? 12.3 PPG.
–They went from last in the league in PPG to 17th.
–In the first four weeks, they gave up 33+ points three times. While he was out, they’ve surrendered 17, 7 and 13 points, three of their four lowest totals.

Of course it’s crazy talk to put that all on Gilmore. And some of those early point totals we … meaning I … freaked out about early in the season make more sense now that we realize how good Deshaun Watson was and have seen Carolina put some good offensive games together. But it’s impossible not to look back and remember the complete breakdowns. The miscommunications. Gilmore’s side of the field left undefended while he was off chasing some receiver going in motion before the snap. One picture, 1,000 words:

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Gilmore

Looking back at cherished little memories like that, not a lot of Patriots fans will be in a mood to be fair to the guy. But let me give it a shot. Because in the first game Gilmore was out, Malcolm Butler was involved in three major breakdowns against the Jets. One of which left Jermaine Kearse so alone he put a bloody hand print on the ball and named it Wilson. So it definitely has not been all Gilmore all season. And his advanced stats bear that out:

–He doesn’t get targeted much. In fact, his 10.5 Cover Snaps per Target is 3rd best among cornerbacks.
–His 15.4 Cover Snaps per Reception is 16th best among CBs.
–His Passer Rating Against of 95.5 is not good. But there are 26 corners with a higher number, including Butler.

And if Johson Bademosi has been passing your eyeball test the way he has mine, maybe it’s time for both of us to ask about progressive lenses. Because Pro Football Focus actually has Gilmore ranked higher:

In Coverage:
–Gilmore: 58th among all cornerbacks
–Bademosi: 84th

Overall:
–Gilmore: 79th
–Bademosi: 80th

Whether the Patriots evaluate their DBs the same way as an analytics site owned by Cris Collinsworth, your guess is as good as mine. What I do know is the notion they’ll just roll Gilmore out there, match him up for size on a Demaryius Thomas or whomever and tell him to just play man against him all game is a pipe dream. He’s going to have to fit in. The Patriots defense is a clock where all the gears and wheels have to mesh or the thing won’t run. There will be times when his responsibility is to stick with a receiver. Others when he’ll be in 3-deep coverage and if the receiver runs inside, release him to the linebackers, but if he stays outside, his priorities will be Seam-Curl-Flat. Because that’s what the rest of the secondary will be playing. That’s what makes this system work. And as we’ve seen, all it takes is for one gear not to fit and the whole thing breaks.

The bottom line, since I have to predict something, is that Gilmore starts. He plays most, but not all of the snaps, mainly matched up on Thomas. And because I still trust my eyes more than Cris Collinsworth’s little nerd factory, Bademosi gets the reps he’s earned, with Butler playing a lot of slot and matching up on a smaller guy like Emmanuel Sanders. And Gilmore does it with a short leash. Because if we see the breakdowns in Denver like we saw against Carolina, GM Belichick won’t give a shit what Coach Belichick does with his star acquisition, and vice versa.

@jerrythornton1