The Dallas Cowboys are 2-0 and have looked like one of the league’s best teams — if not the best — through the first two weeks of the season. Everything was positive.
That’s when news broke that All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs had torn his ACL in practice and would miss the rest of the season. Diggs was off to a great start with an interception, three passes defended and a forced fumble.
We spoke with The Athletic’s Jon Machota and Saad Yousuf to get their thoughts on Diggs’ injury and what it means for the Cowboys.
1. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the worst, how tough is this injury on the Dallas defense?
Machota: I’ll say an 8. It’s a huge blow. While the pass rush is still outstanding, the back end lost one of its best playmakers. They’re much better equipped at cornerback than they were last year. The addition of Stephon Gilmore was a much-needed upgrade. Second-year CB Bland is a very good player. He had a team-high five interceptions last year. Veteran CB Jourdan Lewis is returning from last year’s season-ending injury at an ideal time. The Cowboys are also in a good spot at safety with Jayron Kearse, Malik Hooker and Donovan Wilson. Dallas still has the pieces to be the NFL’s top defense, but the ceiling definitely isn’t what it was before Thursday’s practice started.
Yousuf: Probably a 9. Considering that Diggs is an All-Pro corner in the prime of his career, it would be a 10/10. It’s only softened a little bit because of the depth the Cowboys have at cornerback and how strong they are in other parts of the defense that can help mask the massive void. The engine of this elite defense is still the defensive front and pass rush. If they perform the way they have been through two weeks, this defense will be set up for success. Additionally, Bland is tied for the league lead in interceptions since he entered the league last year and Lewis is a quality slot corner who just returned from his own injury, so the position has good talent. The talent at safety should also help cover for Diggs’ absence.
2. The Cowboys have been an early favorite for Super Bowl odds. Does this setback force a hard hit on the brakes with that talk?
Machota: I wouldn’t say it’s a hard hit on the brakes. The Cowboys remain one of the top three teams in the NFC, along with the San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles. They need some better fortune in the injury department, but there shouldn’t be a sudden change in expectations for this team. A deep playoff run is still very possible.
Yousuf: There should have been brakes with that talk, whether Diggs got hurt or not. These types of situations happen throughout the season for many teams, no better example than the Cowboys’ last opponent in the New York Jets, who lost their superstar quarterback a few plays into the season. There’s too much football to be played and this is a violent sport. Regardless of how good the Cowboys have looked, and may continue to look, it’s too early to be talking Super Bowl.
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3. DaRon Bland will start opposite Stephon Gilmore. What does Bland bring to the position?
Machota: Bland has pretty much exceeded expectations since he arrived in Dallas. Nothing has seemed too big for him. The Cowboys desperately wanted to draft a starting caliber cornerback in 2021, hoping for Patrick Surtain or Jaycee Horn with the 10th overall pick. After they were both picked ahead of Dallas, the Cowboys went with Micah Parsons in the first round and then cornerback Kelvin Joseph in the second. Joseph never met expectations and the Cowboys drafted Bland the following year in the fifth round. Bland made an immediate impact, passing Joseph on the depth chart and grabbing a starting job. He hasn’t looked back since. He has six interceptions in 14 career games when he has played on defense.
Yousuf: Nobody on the roster, and arguably in the NFL, has Diggs’ ballhawk abilities but Bland is a quality option. Bland has six interceptions in the last two seasons since he entered the league, which is tied for most in the NFL. In an interesting twist, it was Diggs’ hit on Barkley in Week 1 that directly resulted in Bland’s most recent interception, which he returned for a touchdown. Bland is a talented corner with a complete skill set and has a great team around him, which should all contribute to him being successful as he fills in Diggs’ big shoes.
4. How does this affect the overall secondary?
Machota: The group will probably see a decline in forcing turnovers. Diggs is one of the league’s best at taking the ball away, often praised for being more like a wide receiver than a defensive back when the ball is in the air. But the back end of the Dallas defense still has plenty of playmakers. Gilmore and Bland have both proven they can take the ball away. Lewis has four interceptions and 12 passes defended in his last 22 games. Kearse, Hooker and Wilson are all quality playmakers as well. They’re obviously not as strong without Diggs, but this is still a very good group, especially playing behind Dallas’ exceptional pass rush.
Yousuf: In the immediate future, this could result in Bland being tested by opposing quarterbacks. Although he has had success taking the ball away, Bland is still a young cornerback who was a fifth-round pick in 2022. With Gilmore on the other side, quarterbacks will be inclined to test him and Lewis in the slot. Another big impact is the hit to the depth in the secondary. The Cowboys may be able to overcome Diggs’ injury because of the talent at the position but one more injury to the trio now and things will get dicey.
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5. Aside from the loss of Diggs on the field, how big is the loss in the locker room?
Machota: It’s definitely a loss. He’s close with several players, including Parsons, who posted Thursday: “I am my brothers keeper! I got you 7! No more need to be said!” The post included two photos of Diggs with Parsons. Diggs brings more energy with his play than his vocal leadership, but both parts of his game will be missed.
Yousuf: It’s huge. Diggs is a respected player in the room and routinely is seen hanging out with other players. On Wednesday, he warmed up in practice alongside Micah Parsons and left the locker room with Gilmore. He’s a quiet personality facing the public but it’s clear he has respect in the locker room and a good energy about him that will be missed.
(Top photo of Trevon Diggs: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)
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