Stephon Gilmore sat down with Brian Baldinger for NFL.com's newest series, NFL Game Pass Film Session, which features some of today's best players breaking down their film and explaining how they see the game.
Gilmore begins the show by briefly talking about his high school career, where he was a quarterback who didn't even play defense. Steve Spurrier recruited him to South Carolina as an "athlete" but Gilmore, who didn't want to play receiver, ended up starting at cornerback as a freshman. He'd be selected 10th overall by the Bills after his junior season and since coming over to the Patriots has cemented his place as a shutdown corner, winning the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Gilmore walked Baldinger through some of his best plays of the 2019 season during the episode, where his preparation and attention to detail shines through. Studying the tendencies of receivers like Odell Beckham Jr., Robby Anderson and Tyreek Hill, especially depending on their splits and the situation, gives Gilmore the confidence to anticipate what's coming.
"I study a lot," said Gilmore. "There's probably not one route any guy's ran that caught the ball that I haven't already seen. They're not going to throw the ball to him if it hasn't worked all year. They're going to try to do the same thing."
On each play, Gilmore describes his mindset and the list of situational factors that he's checking off before the snap. Then, post-snap, he shows how critical it is to play within the defense and to finish each and every play.
On one particular play by Amari Cooper, it was almost a catch if not for Gilmore's strong hands that punched the ball out and caused an incompletion.
"That's one thing I try to do a good job is on the finish," shared Gilmore. "Sometimes they may catch it but you can always punch it out. He's gotta catch it, he's gotta go to the ground. The finish is the most important part."
Baldinger put up one negative play from the second Patriots-Bills matchup, a 53-yard touchdown pass to John Brown where the receiver split Gilmore and Devin McCourty.
Gilmore broke the play down, acknowledging his mistake of not getting his hands on Brown and preventing him from his second move that allowed him to get open. Like a true cornerback, Gilmore knew his mistake as soon as the play hit and was already moving on by the time he got to the sidelines.
Perhaps the biggest recurring theme of GIlmore's play is trusting himself, leaning on all the study and experience he has put in and playing fast.
That came to light particularly against the Dolphins in Week 2, a game in which Gilmore would grab a 54-yard pick six.
"I know that the coaches over there came from New England," said Gilmore as he reflected on a tipped ball that he had that was picked off by Devin McCourty. "It was early in the season, I was just trying to trust it. Envision myself going against our offense and trusting myself."
But beyond trusting himself, trusting his teammates is another big part of his defensive success -- knowing where his support is and playing into it.
Gilmore credited the veteran safeties for giving him the freedom to play without hesitation.
"Any time you have trust like that on the back end, you don't have to worry, you can just play aggressive," said Gilmore. "There's a lot of pressure but I wouldn't say it's pressure because if you trust your teammates there's no pressure."
The foundation all starts in training camp for Gilmore, who focuses not only on his opponents but on himself and his teammates and getting better as the season progresses.
"It takes a lot of hard work during training camp, during the season, to get better and better every game because nobody's playing their best football week one," said Gilmore. "So you're getting better, learning about yourself, learning about your teammates and taking it all in and trying to improve your game each and every week."
NFL Game Pass' Film Session is a great watch with the kind of real football insight from the players themselves that's hard to find. Gilmore provided fantastic insight into his game, an amazing window into the chess match that is happening every play on the field. It's also a great look back at one of the best seasons any player in the NFL had in 2019.
Additional episodes featuring Deshaun Watson, Melvin Gordon and Adam Thielen, along with many others are now available for streaming. Game Pass access is currently free of charge through end of July.