Patriots

How Patriots' Stephon Gilmore knew to jump the route on his pick-six

How Patriots' Stephon Gilmore knew to jump the route on his pick-six

CINCINNATI — Stephon Gilmore knew what was coming. Or at least he had a very good idea. That much was clear. 

Gilmore made two picks in the third quarter of his team's 34-13 win over the Bengals, the second of which he took back for a 64-yard touchdown to make the score 27-10. Almost single-handedly, he buried a one-win team that was sniffing its second, down just three points trotting out for the second half.

"On the first, he kind of got me off the line, but I knew the route so I undercut it and made a good play," Gilmore said. "The second one, kind of knew the route, too. Was able to jump it. We had a blitz coverage so I knew our pressure was going to get there, and I was able to make a play."

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Gilmore had an idea of what to expect on those throws not because of anything the Patriots content team shot of the Bengals sidelines the week prior. That video, at least a portion of it, was broadcast by Fox on Sunday and showed the Bengals sidelines as substitutions were made.

What Gilmore studied in the days leading up to the trip to Southwest Ohio were routes. Route combinations. Concepts. Splits. Situations. Gilmore's anticipation on both of his picks was thanks to the film study he engaged in prior to Sunday, he explained.

"They gotta switch the play up," Gilmore said. "I won't say it was easy, but I knew the route. I trusted myself, and I was able to make a play."

On the game-changing interception-return, slot receiver Tyler Boyd aligned as the No. 2 (count receivers from the outside-in on both sides of the formation) to the field (the side opposite the hash where the ball is snapped), and he ran a quick out-route on first-and-15. Under pressure, Andy Dalton went for it.

"As soon as he threw it," Gilmore said, "I knew I was going. Just had to catch it."

The play, it turns out, has been somewhat of a go-to for the Bengals offense when they've been in get-back-on-schedule situations, trying to manufacture a manageable third down. (A play that goes for eight yards on first-and-15, for example, creates a more manageable second-and-7, which is more likely to lead to third-and-short.) 

In Week 8, Boyd was the No. 2 receiver to the field side on a get-back-on-schedule second-and-13 play. Similar scenario. Similar concept. 

There it was again in Week 5 — Boyd as the No. 2, running an out-route on second-and-long — helping the Bengals chip away at the Cardinals defense.

There it was yet again in Week 4, during a divisional matchup between the Bengals and the Steelers. It was second-and-11. Boyd was the No. 2 to the field side. And, despite the fact that it was a long throw, Dalton wanted to give Boyd an opportunity to make a play.

When Gilmore aligned across from Boyd on first-and-15 Sunday, he did so playing off of Boyd's outside shoulder. With a good understanding of what might be headed his way, Gilmore wanted to take away Boyd's path to the sideline. 

Boyd knew that Gilmore knew, and because Boyd knew the play was likely doomed before the ball was snapped, he awaited an audible call that never came.

"He (had) outside leverage," Boyd said of Gilmore. "He had perfect leverage on an out-route. We were running an out-route to the field with man coverage, outside leverage. Think it's going to be a pick?"

Boyd was also the intended target when Gilmore made his first pick of the afternoon.

"It was just one-on-one," Boyd said. "I won the majority of the matchups . . . But the two plays he made were great plays. He sat on the curl and played great leverage on the out-route. He was already in perfect leverage. We should have (called) a slant."

Boyd is just the latest receiver Gilmore has frustrated. He was targeted five times with Gilmore on him, catching only two for 24 yards. On top of the two interceptions, Gilmore also broke up a pass intended for Boyd.

Gilmore now leads the league with six interceptions, and he has a league-high 16 disruptions (breakups and picks combined). According to Pro Football Focus, Gilmore has allowed only 46.3 percent of targets sent his way to be completed, which is the second among corners. His quarterback rating when targeted is 32.8, which is tops among corners who've played at least 60 percent of their team's defensive snaps.

With excellent speed, enough size to play physical man coverage, and the IQ to have a sense of what's about to happen before it does, Gilmore is putting together another All-Pro caliber season to add to last year's masterpiece. If he keeps it up, he might eventually be recognized as the league's Defensive Player of the Year.

Gilmore is on the kind of run that had him feeling thankful Sunday evening — thankful that Dalton kept throwing his way.

"They gave me an opportunity," Gilmore said. "If they don't throw it, I'm not going to make no plays . . . Appreciate it." 

Gilmore has perfect tweet after two-INT performance>>>>>

Could buzz around Dolphins make Tua Tagovailoa an option for Patriots?

Could buzz around Dolphins make Tua Tagovailoa an option for Patriots?

The first few picks of the 2020 NFL Draft seemed predetermined.

The Cincinnati Bengals would take LSU quarterback Joe Burrow at No. 1, and the Miami Dolphins would either trade up to No. 2 to select Tua Tagovailoa or hope the Alabama QB fell to them at No. 5.

But Tagovailoa to Miami apparently is far from a sure thing.

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ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. wrote Tuesday there's "some buzz" around Oregon QB Justin Herbert going to the Dolphins. That's after a report surfaced last week that Miami could try to trade up to the No. 1 pick to take Burrow.

Why the Dolphins' apparent cold feet with Tagovailoa?

The 22-year-old insists he's fully recovered from a broken hip, but as Kiper points out, Miami's team doctors can't conduct their own in-person assessment on his health due to the coronavirus pandemic restricting travel.

That's where the Patriots come in. With 12 picks in this year's draft, including No. 23 overall, New England in theory could consider trading up to draft Tagovailoa, whose college coach, Nick Saban, has a strong connection to Bill Belichick.

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The Boston Globe's Ben Volin resurfaced that idea Tuesday after initially floating it last week.

The Patriots drafting a QB isn't far-fetched; while our Tom E. Curran has reported they're confident in Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer as their QB duo in 2020, the Patriots still could draft a high-upside arm to compete with Stidham in training camp and potentially take the reins if the 23-year-old regresses.

But is Tagovailoa the right fit, and does New England have the draft capital to land him? Even if the Dolphins don't take Tua at No. 5, it's hard to see the QB-needy Los Angeles Chargers passing on him at No. 6.

The Patriots only have two picks in the top 90 (Nos. 23 and 87), so a jump up to No. 6 likely would require them to include a current player in the deal.

As recent history has shown, trading up in the first round to draft a QB can pay off in a big way. It's unclear whether Tagovailoa is worth the risk, but the option seemingly is there for New England.

Patriots fans should be encouraged by these scouts' takes on Jarrett Stidham

Patriots fans should be encouraged by these scouts' takes on Jarrett Stidham

Critics of the Patriots have been claiming for years that the team's dynasty is about to end, and Tom Brady's recent decision to leave the franchise after winning six Super Bowl titles in 20 years has only intensified the talk of New England's impending fall.

Losing a player of Brady's caliber certainly will impact the Patriots on and off the field, but there are reasons to believe they will again fight for the AFC East title in 2020. One of those reasons is second-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who the Patriots selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Stidham won the backup job last summer, and even though he didn't get many regular season reps, he showed flashes of his impressive potential throughout training camp, the preseason and various in-season practices.

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He also benefitted from spending his rookie year learning from a legendary quarterback and the best head coach of all-time in Bill Belichick. He should at least be well-prepared for the monumental challenge of replacing Brady. Whether he will succeed remains to be seen.

Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report recently talked to some scouts (and other people in the football world) and received some interesting takes on Stidham, and much of the analysis was positive.

"He's a lot closer to playoff quarterback than another guy who falls on his face replacing a legend," one NFL scout tells B/R.

There was plenty pre-draft talk about how Auburn's offense didn't bring out the best of Stidham's talents, and that because of this scenario, the Patriots found tremendous value in the fourth round. One scout told Hayes he "begged" his team to draft Stidham.

"Knowing Bill, he's excited about taking this big ball of clay and molding it into his image," another scout says. "I've always thought Stidham was way undervalued as a fourth-round pick. I begged our guys to take him. He has so much more ability than he was able to show in college."

The praise Stidham has received from scouts, teammates and others has not slowed the debate over whether the Patriots should bring in another quarterback before next season. Stidham and veteran Brian Hoyer are the only quarterbacks on New England's roster after Cody Kessler was released last week.

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Signing a veteran QB in free agency doesn't make much for the Patriots, especially when you consider how little salary cap space they have at their disposal. Let's not forget the Patriots are among the leaders in dead money for 2020, including $13.5 million against the 2020 salary cap from Brady's previous contract. They don't have the luxury of being able to spend large chunks of money on roster upgrades.

Selecting a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft is an interesting idea, but the Patriots have so many other needs on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense, where many key players from last season's unit have left via free agency or trades over the last few weeks. The Patriots have the second-most 2020 draft picks with 12, but only one falls in the top 86. So, unless the Patriots use their first-rounder (23rd overall) on a quarterback, many of the best players at that position likely will be off the board by the time New England is back on the clock in the third round.

Stidham is the best option for the Patriots, and surrounding him with the most talent possible on offense before Week 1 should be among the team's top objectives for the remainder of the offseason.