It’s safe to say that the Eagles need help at cornerback. In 2016, they gave up a total of 1,024 passing yards on routes of 20+ yards down the sidelines..something that simply can’t be repeated in 2017. The question is, do they address the position in Free Agency as they did a year ago, or attempt to build through the draft?
One of the more intriguing free agent candidates is Stephon Gilmore. His five interceptions in 2016 are the most by a Buffalo Bill since Jairus Byrd in 2012. There’s no doubting that statistically, he had a stellar year along with some standout moments. But is it worth the Eagles pursuing yet another former pupil of Jim Schwartz?
For this All-22, I decided to take a look at both the 2016 tape and some film from 2014. This year, he played in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 Defense whereas his 2014 campaign was spend in the ruthless Jim Schwartz scheme. Drawing comparisons is not only going to paint a more accurate picture of what Gilmore does and doesn’t bring to the table, but will show how much he has or hasn’t developed since the departure of Schwartz from Buffalo.
Jamming at the line:
Gilmore is notoriously a dinner cornerback, a player who wins at the end of his routes. Because of this however, it’s rare to see him initiate contact at the line of scrimmage. Often playing from the “off” position or sitting further back, Gilmore relies on his playmaking ability to cut out the pass or force the incompletion. The Eagles have struggled mightily when it comes to winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and if we turn to the film, it’s unclear whether Gilmore would help turn the tide.
Against the Jets, Gilmore had arguably one of his worst outings of the year. Marshall was able to slip by all too easily on this play before cutting across the middle. Gilmore almost appeared to freeze at the line until the veteran wideout stated his intentions with a push inside.
Gilmore’s intention to sit back and let sixth round pick Quincy Enunwa drive past was a risky one on the opening play of the game. He didn’t have the strength to push him off the route and left himself trying to recover desperately for the rest of the route. It’s rare to see Gilmore in these situations where he’s pressing at the line..but it isn’t his strongest asset.
One of the problems the Eagles faced toward the end of 2016 was slant routes. Offenses worked out that getting the ball out quicker not only evaded the pass-rush, but also challenged struggling corners to jam at the line. In 2014, Schwartz faced the same task..and the below play is an all too familiar scene for those who watched the Eagles closely in 2016. Gilmore was beaten off the line which left Hoyer a quick window to sling a pass into.
Gilmore did show flashes of improvement in 2014 however, like this coverage on Jordy Nelson. A quick flip of the hips allowed Gilmore to run closely with Nelson and force the incompletion.
On the opening play against the Broncos, Gilmore was unable to stop a charging Demariyus Thomas as he pushed to the sideline and achieved acres of separation. Unfortunately for him, the pass was overthrown.
Gilmore hasn’t shown too much in the way of improving this area of his craft since 2014, although it was called on far less often under Rex Ryan.
In almost direct correlation with an inability to jam consistently at the line, the Eagles struggled in press-coverage situations in 2016. Does Gilmore’s tenacious nature make up for a struggle at the line?
It didn’t start off overly promisingly. Brandon Marshall was able to dominate the stem of his route with a quick curl, leaving Gilmore still searching for the brake pedal. He was able to stop the play dead after running alongside initially, but the veteran proved too much for the 26-year old.
It didn’t take Gilmore long to learn from his mistakes however, positioning himself inside later in the game and forcing his opponent to the outside, giving him leverage to close back over the top of the route. It’s this kind of adaptation that saw Jalen Mills develop so quickly in 2016.
It was a year of flashes however. Gilmore did an incredible job of forcing LaFell down a tightrope on this play, before undercutting a comeback route to pick off the pass. His ability to change direction so quickly is certainly an advantage.
His interception against Antonio Brown was also a strange play, because he had actually been thrown off the route by the receiver before picking up the underthrown pass. Gilmore did well to to force Brown inside but had Brown made a catch that was actually thrown his way, it would have been a large gain. Gilmore showed great instincts to cut outside as opposed to looking to cut the play dead however and was rewarded in the best way possible.
Gilmore was tasked with covering Davante Parker in his final game of 2016, a mission that had mixed success. However, he showed great physicality on this play to stop the drive inside and then force the incompletion.
But instances like this play against Marshall happened all too often. Gilmore misread the situation and then went on to get overly aggressive, give up a facemask penalty and cost his team valuable yardage. A reluctance to get physical with Marshall hurt here.
Gilmore made a strange decision here against the Browns, that almost looked like he was dropping into zone coverage, anticipating a deep route. The result was an Eagles fans worst nightmare, yet another short completion with room for plenty of YAC.
Just a couple of plays later, Gilmore was pushed out of the picture in a man-coverage situation as he simply tried to overcompensate on a route that he assumed was going over the middle, allowing for a quick turn and completion for Cleveland.
Gilmore had no problem in covering Jordy Nelson, tracking back and keeping his eyes on the receiver, before disrupting the stem of the route and watching the overthrown pass fall incomplete route.
The aggression that Gilmore possesses certainly plays a huge role here, but he is inconsistent in press-coverage. If Gilmore struggles to win early in the route, he can’t showcase the dominance later in the route that he’s become renowned for..making each play a 50/50 situation as to whether it’s going to be a stunning piece of cornerback play or an error that leads to a huge chunk of yardage.
A blessing and a curse:
What Gilmore has done very well throughout his career, is take the sidelines away from receivers and force them inward toward the Safety, accompanying help. In 2016 however, this proved to both be a blessing and a curse.
Against the Cardinals, Gilmore was red-hot. On the play below, he was able to cover the outside of Brown’s route, forcing him to put in extra work to break inside. Once Brown had his lane, Gilmore cut over the top and forced the incompletion.
However things weren’t always that glamorous. Gilmore attempted to do the same a little later but allowed WAY too much room for the Cardinals wideout to cut inside and make a shockingly easy catch.
It wouldn’t be the only time this happened either. In nearly a mirror situation, Gilmore looks to take the vertical aspect away from the route, but the decision to cut inside into acres of space and make an easy catch was all too easy for Brown.
What’s even more worrying is that the EXACT same thing continued to happen throughout the rest of the season, like on this play against Parker. Although lining up in zone coverage, run-stopping linebackers just paved a wide open lane for Parker to dive into…and the closing speed of Gilmore simply wasn’t enough.
Under Jim Schwartz, Gilmore attempted to do the same kind of thing, but success rates were often higher. He did a brilliant job of forcing Percy Harvin into double coverage, completely eliminating the outside from the play.
He did exactly the same against Thomas later in the game against Denver. Knowing that there’s help from the single safety over the top, Gilmore strays outside and Thomas almost bounces off of an invisible cushion and straight into a hard hit.
Verdict: The scheme with Jenkins and McLeod over the top could really play to the strengths of Gilmore, but it almost seemed as though in zonal looks under Rex Ryan, Gilmore grew complacent at times..something the Eagles can’t afford to experience again.
Like any corner to play under Schwartz, Gilmore has quite the mean streak..something he exhibited regularly this season.
This hit against A.J Green was arguably one that sums up his play perfectly. Forcing the incompletion, Gilmore closes quickly and makes a clean hit, knocking the ball loose. Gilmore is a crisp tackler, almost possessing a mix of the aggression demonstrated by Ron Brooks and the awareness of McLeod.
Getting physical at the top of the route is where Gilmore thrives, just as he did in this play against Gresham. Again forcing the incompletion, Gresham almost ran into a brick wall on this route.
What do you get when you combine an aggressive corner with Jim Schwartz? Hard. Hits. The awareness is what really stands out here however as Gilmore leaves his assignment streaking up the seam in order to punch the ball out.
A hard hitting cornerback is something that Schwartz craves, but it’s not necessarily always the best option (Cough, Eric Rowe). However, Gilmore has only refined his tackling over the last few years, with just 6 of his 42 tackles this year being assisted.
Gilmore is one of the most talked about free agent cornerback options going into this offseason, along with the likes of Trumaine Johnson. He’s shown the potential to become a shutdown corner at times, while lacking effort, making poor decisions and struggling to jam in others. The problem is that he;s naturally going to demand a large price tag..something the Eagles don’t have much success with in recent years.
Signing Gilmore would also mean that the Eagles have three former Bills pupils of Jim Schwartz on their Defense in the secondary alone. This is supposed to be a team building for the future, not one that’s looking to resume what could have been elsewhere.
If the Eagles can afford to bring in Gilmore on a short-term deal, it could be worth taking a punt..but if the price is high it simply won’t warrant the production.