Dallas leads the NFL in a few categories: points scored (70), points allowed (10), point differential (+60), giveaways (zero), takeaways (seven), turnover margin (plus-seven), total yards per game allowed (193.0), yards per play allowed (3.5), red zone touchdown percentage allowed (zero percent), sacks (10, tied with the Commanders), quarterback pressure rate (63.6%) and passer rating allowed (34.2).
Cowboys Pro Bowl and 2021 First-Team All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs revealed Dallas believes that no other team in the league can actually defeat them if they play a clean ballgame following Week 2.
To no fault of his own, Diggs' words ended up as ominous foreshadowing since he and the Cowboys have gone through some massive misfortune.
The team made it official Thursday afternoon:
Cornerback Trevon Diggs suffered a left knee injury during today's practice. A subsequent MRI was performed that confirmed a torn ACL. A timetable for Diggs' return to play has not been established, but he is currently projected to miss the remainder of the current season.
"It makes you sick when you see one of your guys through this," Dallas Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said Friday, via The Dallas Morning News. "It's definitely a punch in the gut for our football team, but this is an opportunity for our defensive depth to step up and continue to move forward."
He then revealed how Diggs injury occurred on Thursday.
"It was a red zone one on one drill, very safe drill, and when you see the video, just something that can can happen anywhere," McCarthy said Friday when explaining how Diggs' torn ACL occurred in practice Thursday, via The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "Two guys going for the football and looks like he came down on the foot or stepped on the foot of the receiver. This was not a drill issue at all. By no means"
The 2020 second-round pick, whose 18 interceptions since entering the league three years ago lead the NFL and whose 52 passes defended rank as the second most in the NFL, signed awith the Cowboys early on in training camp, a deal that holds a max value of $104 million. This season, Diggs had allowed completions on only two of the eight passes thrown his way with one interception, no touchdowns allowed and a league-leading 0.0 passer rating on 98 snaps.
While losing a Pro Bowl, All-Pro-caliber cornerback would be catastrophic for most teams, the Cowboys are uniquely equipped to weather the storm caused by Diggs' season-ending injury. The two reasons why their Super Bowl hopes can remain alive without Diggs is because of their their NFL-best pass rush -- powered by two-time First-Team All-Pro linebacker and three-time Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence -- and strong depth at the cornerback position.
Dallas will elevate 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year cornerback Indianapolis Colts in a trade this past offseason. He hauled in a diving interception of New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones in Dallas' 40-0 Week 1 road win while covering the Giants' top target, Pro Bowl tight end Darren Waller.to its CB1 spot with Diggs headed toward the injured reserve list. The five-time Pro Bowler and two-time First-Team All-Pro turned 33 on Tuesday and is in his 12th NFL season. Gilmore has already forced one turnover in just two career games with the Cowboys after coming over from the
"It's one of those plays where you just fight and just try to make a play," Gilmore said on Sept. 14. "I was able to get under the ball. Hopefully we keep that going, feeding off each other. A lot of guys made plays that game. They rushed the quarterback out of the pocket and they were able to get him off the spot. I was able to make a play on the ball. That was more of a scramble drill, staying with my guy, and the quarterback was running. He was able to buy a lot of time, and I able to make a play before the tight end that was there [Pro Bowler Darren Waller] did."
That play didn't surprise Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, and it even led him to compare Gilmore to another Defensive Player of the Year cornerback he has coached: Pro Football Hall of Famer Charles Woodson. McCarthy spent 13 seasons as the Packers head coach from 2006-2018, coached Woodson for seven seasons from 2006-2012, the defensive back's age-30 to age-36 seasons.
"Stephon looked like that at practice every day," McCarthy said postgame on Sept. 10. "He's an incredible route reader, just the pattern of concepts and understanding of the [route]stems. The way he sees the game is exceptional. I look back at Charles Woodson and some of those guys that had that special trait, and he definitely has that."
The Cowboys' top wide receiver, 2022 Second-Team All-Pro CeeDee Lamb, seconded McCarthy's sentiments, recently calling Gilmore "the smartest DB" he has ever faced.
"I just made a comment today that he's probably the smartest DB that I've ever lined up against," Lamb said on Sept 14. "I get one yard down the field off of a release and he knows, he's kind of eliminating routes in his head. So you can beat him, you got him, but I don't know if you can do it twice even if you do a good job. Love that guy. Glad he's on our team."
Gilmore appreciates the high esteem his boss and an incumbent Cowboys offensive leader holds him in.
"That's a compliment, Charles Woodson was a great player for a long time," Gilmore said. "One of the corners I looked up to as a kid. He was making plays for a long time. It's a great compliment. [As for the one] coming from CeeDee, one of the best wide receivers in the league, to get that compliment from him, it's good. We just have to keep it up and keep playing at a high level."
Diggs himself endorsed how impactful Gilmore's presence in the Dallas secondary has been through two weeks on Wednesday, a day before suffering his season-ending injury.
"Yeah, 100%, I just know that side [Gilmore's side] is just locked down, shut down," Diggs said Wednesday. "If I do my side and my assignment, my job, it's the same way. So, you know, it [the addition of Gilmore] just helps out the defense
Another Cowboys cornerback who is playing at high level and helping out the defense is DaRon Bland, one of the NFL's most underrated defensive backs. The 2022 fifth-round pick out of Fresno State has played both inside at nickel as well as outside for defensive coordinator Dan Quinn's defense, and wherever he has lined up in his young career, he has been a turnover magnet. Bland intercepted five passes as a rookie in 2022, tied for the fifth most in the league a season ago. His pick-six of Jones in Week 1 gives him six for his career, tying him with Steelers All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick, Broncos All-Pro Justin Simmons, Falcons All-Pro Jessie Bates III, Seahawks' Pro Bowler Tariq Woolen and Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson for the most since Bland entered the NFL in 2022.
"Moving back to the outside will be good, I just got to keep my head straight," Bland said Friday, via The Athletic. "I'm definitely a lot more comfortable. I'm not playing as much on instincts. I'm able to be better at my techniques. ... I've already been going back and forth [from inside CB to outside CB] so I feel like it's not too much of a transition for me."
Bland revealed Gilmore's advice to him was not to change much at all.
""Just keep it the same," Bland said when talking about Gilmore's message for him. "Don't try to do too much. Just be you."
As for who will slide into the nickel role in the slot for Bland, that would be Jourdan Lewis, who made his 2023 season debut in Week 2 against the Jets after missing the final 12 games of the 2022 season -- including playoffs -- after suffering a foot injury. That malady was initially described as Lisfranc injury, according to Lewis, but it ended up being worse. On Aug. 29, Lewis said he felt "really good, the best I have in a while." Lewis, a 28-year-old third-round pick out of the 2017 NFL Draft, became a full-time starter for the Cowboys defense back in 2020, so he brings plenty of experience into the Dallas secondary. Lewis played nine defensive snaps in Week 2 against the Jets with Wilson throwing an incompletion on the one target that went Lewis' direction.
For depth purposes, the Cowboys do have 23-year-old, former first-round pick (30th overall in 2020 NFL Draft) cornerback Noah Igbinoghene. Dallas acquired him on roster cutdown day in a swap with the Miami Dolphins in which it sent 2021 second-round pick cornerback Kelvin Joseph down to South Florida. He logged 12 defensive snaps in garbage time of the Cowboys' 40-0 smackdown of the Giants in Week 1, allowing one eight-yard catch on the two passes thrown his way. Igbinoghene also returned a blocked field goal 58 yards for Dallas' first touchdown of 2023.
Dallas also has one of the deepest safety rooms in the NFL with Jayron Kearse. Hooker flashed in a big way against the Jets on Sunday, running across just about the entire filed to intercept a Zach Wilson pass that was intended for receiver Garrett Wilson. Diggs was in coverage, and Hooker sprinted over the top of the play like a centerfielder to secure the football., and
"He did an excellent job being over the top, having the safety help and just trusting that one of his guys was going to be there," Diggs said Wednesday. "That's what I was piggybacking on, just everyone being in tune with their assignments. Helping each other out and being there for each other is just going to help the defense."
McCarthy also mentioned backup safety Israel Mukuamu as a player who has "position flex" when naming players who can help fill the void left by Diggs' injury, according to The Dallas Morning News. He appears to be an option at providing help at nickel cornerback in the slot with Bland moving outside.
Diggs being ruled out for the season is a nightmare come to life for the Cowboys, but they have the pieces currently in place to continue fielding one of the NFL's best defenses and maintain hope in all of their 2023 season goals going forward.