By Henry McKenna
The New England Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore was a shutdown cornerback at a time of year when that’s hardest. The cornerback managed to play some of his best games during the playoffs last season, with excellent games against quarterbacks Philip Rivers, Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff.
Targeting Gilmore 19 times during the playoffs, opposing quarterbacks posted a 38.2 passer rating, a figure which is worse than if every ball landed out of bounds. In those games, Gilmore’s assignment was generally 1-on-1 work with matchups against the Chargers’ Keenan Allen and the Chiefs’ Sammy Watkins. In Super Bowl LIII against the Los Angeles Rams , the Patriots played mostly in zone, with Gilmore drawing a great deal of coverage of Brandin Cooks.
Even as good as Gilmore was, his receiver-assignment was productive. Allen finished the divisional round with six targets for two receptions, 75 yards and a touchdown. In the AFC championship, Watkins had eight targets for four receptions and 114 yards.
Cooks, meanwhile, had 13 targets for eight catches and 120 yards. But as mentioned, because Gilmore was mostly in a zone defense, Cooks’ performance wasn’t necessary tethered to...