All-22: Stephon Gilmore, Lockdown Cornerback

Stephon Gilmore showed why he's a lockdown cornerback in 2014. While he was terrific all season long, Gilmore was especially great against the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers.

Stephon Gilmore is one of the most underrated cornerbacks in the NFL. He’s not a household name in the NFL and he’s under-appreciated by his own fan base. Entering his fourth season in the NFL, Gilmore looks like a true lockdown cornerback.

How good was Gilmore in 2014? The analytics site, Pro Football Focus, gave Gilmore a positive rating from Week 8 to the end of Gilmore’s season in Week 16. Even Gilmore’s “negative” ratings weren’t bad. Of Gilmore’s six negative ratings, five were between -0.2 and -0.9 (0.0 is considered average).

Late in the 2014 season, Gilmore really impressed when the Buffalo Bills went against two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in back-to-back weeks. In Week 14 and Week 15, the Bills played the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers. Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers are two of the best in the game, yet Gilmore held his own in consecutive weeks with terrific coverage. For Gilmore’s All-22, these two performances were highlighted.

Week 14 – Denver Broncos

Play 1: Gilmore gets beat

It doesn’t matter who you are, there are times when you are beaten. Early in the Broncos game, Manning throws a long pass in the direction of Demaryius Thomas. The wide receiver stepped inside before turning towards the sideline and running down the sideline. Thomas gets a step on Gilmore at this point. Luckily for the cornerback, Manning’s pass was off target. As a cornerback, it’s important to remember these plays as a quarterback may ‘go back to the well’ later in the game.

Play 2: Gilmore intercepts Manning

Later in the game, Thomas runs the same exact route. This time, Gilmore is ready for the route and he stays step-for-step with the Broncos receiver. With terrific coverage, Gilmore plays the ball beautifully and intercepts Manning. Gilmore clearly remembered the play from earlier in the game and was ready for it.

Play 3: Bang-bang play

Emmanuel Sanders runs across the middle on this play and is targeted by Manning. Gilmore is sitting in a zone on the play and sees the pass coming. As the ball reaches Sanders, Gilmore comes in and hits the receiver hard. This play looked like a car crash live but Gilmore’s contact seemed to be timed perfectly. Unfortunately for Gilmore, the referee disagreed and called Gilmore for defensive pass interference. That penalty was declined as Jerry Hughes picked up a personal foul on the play. If a play like this occurs in 2015, there’s no doubt in my mind that Rex Ryan would praise Gilmore’s play. He laid a hard hit on Sanders and jarred the ball away from the receiver.

Play 4: Takes away the sideline

Lined up with Sanders again, Gilmore plays the sideline and forces Sanders to run inside towards the safety. Aaron Williams lays a hard hit on Sanders and Gilmore tries to get his hands on the ball that floats away.

Play 5: Gilmore recognizes the play

Manning throws a short pass to Sanders. It’s a play that the Broncos had run a few times at this point. Sanders’ blocker gets taken away so Gilmore has a one-on-one play against the receiver. Gilmore comes in and takes Sanders down after a five yard gain.

Gilmore performed very well in coverage against the likes of Thomas and Sanders. His interception showed that he was ready for the same exact play that almost led to a big play earlier in the game. Believe it or not, Gilmore’s play against the Packers was even better.

Week 15 – Green Bay Packers

Early in the Week 15 contest, Gilmore was shaken up on a play. He walked off on his own, but it seemed like Rodgers wanted to test the cornerback after the injury.

Play 1: Gilmore runs with Adams

Gilmore is lined up at the bottom of the screen against Davante Adams. On the play, Gilmore runs step-for-step with the receiver and Rodgers’ throw is off-target. A perfect pass would have been needed on the play.

Play 2: Blankets Cobb on nearly identical play

Randall Cobb is lined up against Gilmore on the bottom of the screen. The play looks almost identical to the shot above where Gilmore is going against Adams. Once again, Gilmore stays right with the receiver and Rodgers is unable to make the pass.

Play 3: Gilmore looks like intended receiver

Jordy Nelson is lined up with Gilmore on play three. Rodgers throws towards the left sidelines on the play and Gilmore is ready for the pass. This could have been an interception for Gilmore as he put himself between the ball and receiver.

Play 4: Only reception allowed

Rodgers throws a short pass to Nelson on the play. Nelson curls towards the sidelines after running about five yards downfield. As soon as Nelson catches the ball and turns, Gilmore is there for the tackle. The six yard reception was the only completion made in Gilmore’s direction all game.

Play 5: Covers the slant

Gilmore is once again on Nelson. The receiver runs a slant pattern and Gilmore makes contact with Nelson right as the pass comes to Nelson. The pass falls incomplete thanks to Gilmore’s perfectly timed play on the ball.

Play 6: The “how did he not intercept that?”

Gilmore would love to have this play back. Rodgers throws to Nelson out in the flat and Gilmore reads it immediately. He makes a break on the ball and has it hit off of his hands and chest. If Gilmore catches the ball cleanly, that’s an easy pick-six for the cornerback.

Play 7: Tight coverage deep

Rodgers tries to throw deep to Adams with Gilmore in coverage. Gilmore blankets Adams down the left sideline of the field and leaves no room for a pass to be completed.

Play 8: Rodgers under pressure

Gilmore covers Nelson on a play where Rodgers is first pressured by defensive tackle Kyle Williams and later by Preston Brown. Rodgers scrambles and throws the pass off-target. Gilmore didn’t leave much room for a pass to be completed even if Rodgers was on target.

All eight of these passes occurred in the first half of the Bills-Packers game. In the second half, Rodgers didn’t throw in Gilmore’s direction at all. Gilmore proved himself in the first half and shutdown half of the field throughout the game.

In these two performances, Gilmore allowed three receptions on 13 targets for 20 yards. There aren’t many cornerbacks who can say the same when going against quarterbacks like Manning and Rodgers. The cornerback also showed the ability to slow down different types of receivers as he lined up against the likes of Thomas, Sanders, Nelson, Adams and Cobb.

Entering 2015, the best is yet to come from Gilmore. That’s exciting for Bills fans, and scary for opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers.


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