The Houston Texans don't exactly have stability at quarterback. They rarely ever had. Yet in Year 3, DeAndre Hopkins is already one of the league's best receivers. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder ranks third in the NFL with 1,081 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Brian Hoyer is back in the saddle for the Texans. Stephon Gilmore knows what his top priority is.
“The quarterback will throw it even if he’s covered," the Bills cornerback said. "He’ll give him a chance to go up and catch the ball.”
Through the Bills' 5-6 start, the one constant has been strong play from the starting cornerbacks. Coach Rex Ryan has been leaving them in one-on-one coverage often and, with their 42 combined pass defensed, Gilmore and rookie Ronald Darby have been up to the task. In the 30-22 loss at Kansas City, both were beat deep. Pressure up front sagging, the Bills secondary was unable to hold up.
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, facing both players, had 160 yards and a score.
The key to playing cornerback, Gilmore said, is being "strong-minded." Sunday was especially a rough day for Darby. When the rookie sent Gilmore a text message on Monday, the vet who has embraced more of a leadership role told him "It happens." He endured similar valleys as a rookie. As he said, everybody around you can say to "Forget about it," but certain plays will stay on your mind.
"I don’t care who you are," Gilmore said. "You’ve got to knock it off and learn from it. Houston will be watching the film, so you’ve got to be ready for the same type of routes and be ready to make plays.
"You’ve got to have a strong mind—especially playing corner on an island every play. You’ve got to have a strong mind to put it behind you, get better, stay positive and make plays the next Sunday.”
Hoyer will not be shy in driving the ball downfield whether the Bills decide to bracket a safety over the top or not. He has been targeted a NFL-high 144 times this season, 13.1 per game.
Gilmore does believe he has a feel for Hopkins' game. He faced him in college --- when he was at South Carolina and Hopkins was at Clemson --- and twice in the pros. In 2011, his Gamecocks beat Clemson, 34-13, as Hopkins had only three receptions for 24 yards. A year ago, Hopkins made the best use of his six targets with five grabs for 64 yards and a touchdown over then-cornerback Corey Graham.
“So I know what type of receiver he is," Gilmore said. "He’s got good hands — great hands. He’s on a roll right now so we have to be ready to go out there and get a win.
"We’ve got to be physical with him and the big thing with him is you’ve got to go get the ball when the ball’s in the air. That’s when he makes his plays.”
Hopkins always had possessed the ability to make a contested catch downfield, he continued. Where Gilmore has seen the most improvement in the receiver is how he uses his hands off the line of scrimmage to get instant separation.
It remains to be seen if the Bills decide to pressure up front or not. Ryan chose not to against Kansas City, and Alex Smith had himself a day. Either way, Gilmore relishes being put on an island.
There will likely be snaps this coming Sunday, he'll be alone on Hopkins.
“That’s something I like doing," Gilmore said. "He’s putting us in a position to make the ball come to us. We’ve got to be up to that challenge. Every week — week in and week out — is going to be a good receiver. They put us in that position, we’ve got to be ready to step up and make plays.”