The play of Buffalo Bills’ cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been a widely discussed topic among fans over the past several weeks, due to the high expectations surrounding the team’s 2012 first-round draft pick. Gilmore appears to have a knack for finding himself at the tail end of negative plays, but has he really been bad, as many believe him to be?
As we all know, TV broadcast angles allow you to see which wide receiver is lined up over an opposing cornerback. However, the visual only gives the viewer about 5-7 yards of space behind the cornerback, as most casual fans prefer to watch the ball-carrier, aka the quarterback. With the All-22 Coaches Film, the entire field is in view, making it much easier to decipher what exactly is going on.
So, I decided to watch and chart each of the five games that Stephon Gilmore has played in, charting the wideout/tight end/running back lined up across from him, the coverage shell that the defense is using. Additionally, I’d chart Gilmore’s coverage as in-position, shut down, failed, burned.
The criteria used is borrowed from Cian Fahey’s PreSnapReads.
I wanted this breakdown to be as accurate as possible, so some passing snaps did not qualify. Plays that didn’t qualify include:
- Zone plays in which specific assignment is unclear.
- Prevent coverage situations
- Receptions in the flat with a route run.
- Designed QB runs
The ball does not have to be thrown in the defensive back’s direction for the coverage to fail. This is NOT an alysis of how many completions the cornerback allowed, that can be found elsewhere, this is an analysis of how good his coverage is on any given play.
Failed coverages can come at any point of the route, but it is subjective to where the players are on the field in relation to the quarterback. Typically, defensive backs must be within arms reach for underneath/intermediate routes. On deeper passes, there is greater leeway given to the defender.
Failed coverages can be subjective. They must be determined by the situation considering the length of the play and other such variables.
This category is reserved for those plays when receivers would have to make superhuman catches to beat the coverage. The best example of this is when receivers line up wide and try to run down the sideline, but the defensive back gradually guides them towards the sideline, suffocating the space they have to catch the football in. If a receiver is on the white sideline, he is shut down.
This is the opposite of a failed coverage. In order to be ‘In Position’, a defensive back has to be in a position to prevent a relatively well-thrown pass to his assignment.
This does not count with failed coverage. In order to be “burned” the cornerback must be completely beaten on a route.
Stephon Gilmore’s Skill Set
At 6’1” 195 pounds, Stephon Gilmore has good size for the cornerback position. His 31 ¼” arms allow him to jam opposing wide receivers and be physical. Has a long, well-built frame and is incredibly athletic.
Gilmore’s 4.40 second 40-yard dash, 6.61 second three-cone drill, and 3.94 20-yard shuttle at the combine would have ranked 4th, 3rd, and 2nd, respectively, compared to the 59 defensive backs at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine.
While Gilmore is a physical, tenacious and aggressive cornerback, it seems that his overall athletic ability has gone vastly underrated. He has loose hips and great lateral quickness, two traits that are imperative to a cornerback’s success, that allow him to trail, mirror, and essentially lock down most wideout at a high level when in man coverage.
In addition to his coverage ability, Stephon Gilmore is also a great tackler. He consistently shows proper technique and always wraps up ball-carriers , rather than going for the highlight hit. Gilmore is a valuable asset against the run as well, using his hands effectively to get off blocks, while showing great closing speed.
Stephon Gilmore possesses all of the physical and mental traits you look for in a No. 1 cornerback, but he needs to improve in a few areas of his overall game in order to reach his full potential. He has a tendency to get too high in his backpedal, causing him to lose balance, which often times leads to pass interference or holding penalties as a result of trying to stay in position. When playing in off-man or some zone concepts, he is extremely vulnerable to comeback routes, as he can overextend in his breaks. He needs to work on staying compact in order to get a quicker jump on passes.
Vs. Miami Dolphins
In his first action of the 2014 season, Stephon Gilmore was in coverage for 37 snaps that qualified under the grading criteria. Throughout the game, Gilmore lined up across from Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, Jarvis Landry and Brandon Gibson.
|Opposing WR||Snaps||Targets||Completions||TD||Catch %|
Gilmore had a solid game against Miami, keeping himself in a position to make a play on the ball. Mike Wallace hauled in a touchdown pass in the redzone when Gilmore was playing man-coverage, but the play required a fantastic display of body-control in order to make a one-handed grab. This was a tough play to decide whether Gilmore was “in position” or if it was a “failed coverage.” Due to the fact that Gilmore didn’t get his head around to make a play on the ball, it was charted as a fail.Vs. San Diego
Gilmore struggled against San Diego, due to the high number of screens, picks and underneath routes utilized by the Chargers offense. Throughout the game, Gilmore was tasked with covering Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green and Eddie Royal. Gilmore was charged with a touchdown reception to Eddie Royal in the redzone on a screen, but a pick block by Keenan Allen caused Gilmore to be a non-factor on the play, which disqualified the play from this chart.
Another controversial play came in the third quarter. Stephon Gilmore dropped into zone coverage with two-deep safeties over the top. Gilmore was lined up over tight end Ladarius Green, who ran an inside post route. Gilmore was sitting in his zone when Green broke inside, and Gilmore didn’t react until the ball was delivered.
To me, it looked like a miscommunication between Preston Brown and Brandon Spikes, but Gilmore reacted and chased Green down, thus being charged with the reception by ProFootballFocus. Here’s the clip, and you can make your own judgement.
Vs. Houston Texans
After an inconsistent start to Stephon Gilmore’s 2014 season, he had an excellent game against Houston. Gilmore saw 37 qualifying snaps in coverage, lining up opposite Deandre Hopkins (would trail him when in the slot), Andre Johnson, Garrett Graham and Keshawn Martin.
Gilmore had a fantastic showing when playing man coverage against two talented wideouts, and consistently stayed with his man when dropping into zone coverage. The Bills ran a lot of cover 3, which essentially had Gilmore in “man” coverage against the split-end wide receiver and he fared very well.
The play in which Gilmore was “burned” came on a crossing route in man coverage against Andre Johnson. Johnson got inside leverage on Gilmore, who had no choice but to hold the opposing wideout, resulting in a penalty.
Vs. Detroit Lions
After a great outing against Houston, Gilmore had an inconsistent, but solid performance against the Detroit Lions. Again, Gilmore surrendered a red-zone touchdown, but an excellent route adjustment by Golden Tate to get in front of him contributed to that.
Gilmore saw just about every receiver that the Lions fielded, and had his ups and downs with each. Six of his seven “shutdown” coverages were against Jeremy Ross, while a hobbled Calvin Johnson caused two failed coverages.Golden Tate’s second reception was the “burn” on a comeback route that Gilmore couldn’t react to in time.
Vs. New England Patriots
Stephon Gilmore bounced back after a rough outing against the Lions for week 6’s matchup against the New England Patriots. Gilmore qualified for 32 coverage snaps against the Patriots, with just three resulting in a “failed coverage.”
During the game, fans were screaming at Gilmore for the deep touchdown to Brian Tyms, but when you look at the tape, Gilmore handled his assignment perfectly, maintaining close outside leverage on Tyms throughout the catch. Corey Graham was responsible for the inside leverage, but he bit on Tom Brady’s play-action for a split second and was beat over the top.
Gilmore surrendered three more receptions, but they were all underneath crossers in which he made the tackle for a short gain. Gilmore saw Rob Gronkowski three times, shut him down once and was in position on two others.
If you take the 14 receptions on 21 targets for 109 yards and 3 TD’s caught against Gilmore in a vaccuum, it’s easy to say that he’s a liability in coverage. However, when you look at what he’s asked to do within Jim Schwartz’ defensive scheme, he’s been incredibly effective, outside of a handful of plays.
Gilmore plays nearly an equal share of man and zone coverage, and nearly every single reception that he’s allowed was a result of an underneath crosser in which Gilmore was in zone. Schwartz’ scheme forces offenses to dink and dunk, as the philosophy is to limit big plays– and that’s just what Gilmore has done. He’s allowed an average of just 2.5 yards after the catch, so while his numbers suggest that he’s getting beat, he’s actually been playing off-coverage, and wrapping up the ball-carrier quickly.
There’s definitely a ton of room for improvement in Gilmore’s game if he wants to live up to his draft status, but let’s be real- There’s no such thing as a “Shut down cornerback” in the NFL. DBs are going to get beat, and they’ll always be remembered for the plays they didn’t make than the ones they did. However, Gilmore has undoubtedly been the Bills’ most reliable cornerback throughout the year and he’s done a good job of eliminating 1/3 of the field for the majority of games.