When the Dallas Cowboys traded for Stephon Gilmore it was viewed as one of the best offseason moves the team has made in recent memory. To bring in a veteran presence to round out the secondary felt like a team that was thinking about winning in the here and now.
With the loss of Trevon Diggs after just three games, the dynamic has changed and what the Cowboys are now asking of Gilmore is very different than what they had originally hoped, and the best of Gilmore is needed for this team to win the ultimate prize.
Gilmore at the age of 33 years was perfectly fit to be a CB2 next to Diggs, now that is out the window. It is up to the seasoned vet to continue his high level of play throughout the season in order for this Cowboys team to reach the goals they intended. Watching the film it is clear, Gilmore still has juice. His technique is clean, and his football IQ is evident on the field allowing him to play fast and confidently against younger dynamic receivers.
However, just like with any human on earth, we all come with some weaknesses, and for Gilmore, that weakness sadly looks to be a strength of this week’s opponent. The tape shows Gilmore's deficiencies come on the intermediate and underneath crossers where he is tasked to run stride for stride with these young shifty guys across the field, navigating through the traffic and being able to cover ground to get in position to make a play.
Cowboys Need Stephon Gilmore To Bring His A-Game On Sunday
Not trying to be nit picky here but w/ the 49ers up next, I see this as something they try & attack.— Tony Catalina (@Tony_Catalina) October 3, 2023
Slow at the snap but a good recovery to get a PBU. A well-timed, good ball here & Gilmore is beat.
He is playing well, he just has a thing that can be had with. #DallasCowboys pic.twitter.com/wl1sTFlPyy
Above are five instances of this occurring to him in just the last two weeks. Not in every case shown did the team pay for it, but in every case there was an opportunity for it to go south.
Now mind you, this is just highlighting something that may be exploited, and to be crystal clear, Gilmore is playing at a high level for the Dallas Cowboys. His addition has been huge, especially with the Diggs news. However, with an opponent of the 49ers caliber, and with these types of plays being what they like to do with players such as Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk, it could become a storyline on Sunday.
How do the Cowboys combat this?
If we are able to see it on film, the Cowboys and certainly the 49ers see it as well. This type of concept and action is already ingrained in what the 49ers do so well. They will not need to adjust anything to take advantage of it, they’ll just need to run their offense and it will be up to Dan Quinn to find a way to stop it.
1 of the 1/2-dozen times in playoff game Kyle Shanahan had 49ers targeting Tariq Woolen. Mostly long crossers, once vertically. Some vs man, some vs zone when Woolen had no one outside/reacted to huge gaps in Seahawks' deep middle. QB Brock Purdy with all day to wait on the route pic.twitter.com/A4fDf9iGnw— Gregg Bell (@gbellseattle) January 18, 2023
How do you stop it? For starters, the Cowboys can opt to choose their matchups. They can have Gilmore cover the less speedy guys, and leave the speed to the younger, faster Cowboys such as Jourdan Lewis or DaRon Bland. Instead of staying on a side, they can choose to put Gilmore in advantageous matchups that allow him to be comfortable.
Secondly, the Cowboys could choose to run less man coverage this week. Man is the biggest proponent of how this play is successful. Beat the man across from you and it’s a win on the play. Allow for Gilmore to cover in his zone and be able to pass the speed off across the field with a player already in place to combat. Easier said than done.
The Cowboys can be successful - it’ll just take a full team effort
Quinn and company have their hands full this week, but they have the talent, knowledge, and experience to stop this highly efficient 49ers offense. The Cowboys will need to be able to stop Christian McCaffrey to keep the offense off schedule and apply pressure to Brock Purdy to keep him uncomfortable.
All these things work in unison together with hopes of putting together an excellent defensive game plan to stop a very good football team. It can be done, and the right people are in place to do so, and it very well may start with Gilmore locking in and giving us his best performance to date in a Cowboys uniform.