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How much better is Stephon Gilmore this season? ‘Way better,’ Bill Belichick says

Stephen Gilmore has played 97.4 percent of defensive snaps through five games.
Stephen Gilmore has played 97.4 percent of defensive snaps through five games. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)

FOXBOROUGH — Stephon Gilmore tossed a not-so-subtle jab at trash-talking cornerbacks when he was asked about the comments Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey has made regarding Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill.

“A lot of guys that talk are mostly zone guys so they have a lot of energy to do that,” Gilmore offered during an interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub Wednesday.

Ramsey, hardly ever shy with his words, mentioned that Hill was just “all right, I guess,” and “thinks high of himself,” before Kansas City beat Jacksonville, 30-14, last week.

It’s more Gilmore’s style to let his play speak for itself, which is why it’s unlikely he’ll hurl any material at the speedy Hill before the Chiefs come to Gillette Stadium on Sunday night.

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Gilmore has been steady for the Patriots this season — his second with the team since signing a five-year, $65 million contract — and counted on as the team’s top corner after New England chose not to bring Malcolm Butler back.

Often times Gilmore is in man coverage, sometimes tasked with covering the opponent’s top receiver, while other times sticking to a primary side. Through five games he is tied for the league lead with seven passes defended — just two fewer than he had all of last season.

“He’s done a good job for us,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Way better than last year. I mean, he’s a good player, was a good player last year. I think his ability for us to utilize him in our system and for him to have a better understanding and for us as a group as a secondary, not just him, but the entire group to function as one. He improved last year over the course of the year, but he’s improved this year, too.”

Belichick was particularly complimentary of Gilmore’s focus on the field — something that doesn’t always come easy at the cornerback position considering they’re not necessarily targeted on every play.

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“You’re in on half a dozen to a dozen plays in every game but those are game-changing plays,” Belichick added.

Gilmore acknowledged he feels a greater comfort level in the Patriots’ scheme this season, which he attributed to having a better understanding of the fundamentals and techniques the coaches have implemented since he joined the team from Buffalo.

He has also honed in on his film study to log tendencies of opposing receivers, which he said has helped him remain locked in during lulls in plays his way.

“I feel like I’m focusing on every play and making it like the ball is coming my way,” Gilmore said. “The coaches put me in a position to make plays and I’m trying to focus on splits and formations and trying to anticipate routes, play more aggressive.”

When opposing quarterbacks have targeted Gilmore, they’ve completed 10 of 26 passes for 120 yards and three touchdowns — two of which came against the Lions in what was arguably the Patriots’ worst showing this season.

While the Patriots’ defense has played better since the loss to the Lions, New England will need Gilmore and the rest of the secondary at its best Sunday against the Chiefs and their explosive offense.

Stepping up

The Patriots have been willing to lean on rookie running back Sony Michel to shoulder the load out of the backfield and he has shown improvement each week.

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Since missing the first week of the season because of a knee injury that kept him out of the preseason, he has carried the ball at least 10 times in each game, gaining 210 yards with two touchdowns on 43 carries in the last two.

The first-round pick is the only true early-down runner on the roster and will be counted on, especially after season-ending injuries to Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead.

Michel has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his last two games — an increase from the 3.5 he averaged in his first two.

“I feel like I’ve taken little steps to get better each and every week,” Michel said. “I can always improve my body and get better explosiveness. Any time I see where there’s room for improvement, that’s an opportunity for me.”

Pocket watch

When Patrick Mahomes played at Texas Tech he was coached by Kliff Kingsbury, who was drafted by the Patriots in 2003 (sixth round) and spent the year observing Tom Brady while he was on the team’s injured reserve list because of an arm injury.

It’s not shocking to hear that a younger quarterback has looked to Brady’s prolific game film for pointers, but Kingsbury’s familiarity with the Patriots quarterback lends itself to extra points of emphasis for Mahomes.

“Just the way he can move within the pocket and still find lanes to throw the ball is something that I find is truly special,” Mahomes said on a conference call. “I mean, I try to do that, but I mean, you have to keep working on that. He’s done that his whole entire career, and it’s something that bought him a lot of extra time in the pocket to make a lot of great throws.”

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One of Mahomes’s many strengths he has shown in his breakout season is his ability to maneuver in the pocket, remain patient, and make plays even when he scrambles outside of it.

During the Chiefs’ comeback win against the Broncos in Week 4, Mahomes threw for 192 yards outside the pocket, according to ESPN, the most in a game during the past 10 seasons.

Perfect attendance

The Patriots had full attendance for Wednesday’s practice at Gillette Stadium. Chris Hogan was among nine limited participants and the wide receiver was listed with a thigh injury. Josh Gordon (hamstring), Malcom Brown (knee), Geneo Grissom (ankle), Rob Gronkowski (ankle), Michel (knee), Eric Rowe (groin), John Simon (shoulder), and Danny Shelton (elbow) were the others.

One of the more positive progressions was that Brown and Simon were able to participate despite leaving last Thursday’s game against the Colts because of injuries.