Since 2020, no cornerback has more interceptions in the NFL than Diggs’ 18. Since Dan Quinn became the defensive coordinator in 2021, the Cowboys have played the highest rate of man coverage in the NFL, and Diggs has responded with 15 interceptions and 38 passes defended. Through two games this season, he has allowed just three receptions on eight targets for 31 yards, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
But this is a team that lost quarterback Dak Prescott in last year’s season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and won four of five games with Cooper Rush as its starter. And this is a team that was without Pro Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith for the first 13 games last season because of a torn hamstring and won 10 games.
Now the Cowboys need Stephon Gilmore, DaRon Bland, Jourdan Lewis and the rest of their cornerbacks to maintain what the defense has done in the first two games: suffocate opposing offenses by giving up just 10 points, while recording 10 sacks and forcing seven turnovers.
The Cowboys’ acquisition of Gilmore, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Tuesday, from the Indianapolis Colts in March looks even more prescient now. He had an interception in the season opener against the New York Giants and has been lauded by teammates since his arrival.
“He’s probably the smartest DB, once again, that I’ve ever lined up against,” wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said recently. “I get 1 yard down the field off a release, he’s kind of eliminating routes in his head. You beat him, you got it, but I don’t know if you can do it twice. If you do it, good job. I love that guy. Glad he’s on our team.”
Bland is likeliest to replace Diggs opposite Gilmore, but only two of his eight career starts have come on the outside, as he has excelled as a slot corner. He led the Cowboys in interceptions last season with five and returned an interception for a touchdown in this year’s opener against the Giants, thanks in large part to Diggs’ hit on Saquon Barkley.
According to Next Gen Stats, the 66.5 passer rating allowed by Bland as the nearest defender is fifth best among defensive backs targeted at least 60 times since the start of last season. Only Riq Woolen (50.5), James Bradberry (60.0), Jonathan Jones (64.1) and Cameron Sutton (65.1) have been better.
“It’s never ever been too big for him,” Quinn said after the Giants’ win. “I remember the first game he started when Jourdan got injured, and it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, s—, here we go.’ He was ready to go get it on and performed in that game. He’s always been someone that just kept getting better and better and better as he goes. Love that he’s able to play outside, inside. That just gives him more versatility for us.”
Lewis was having his best season last year before suffering a Lisfranc injury in his right foot in October. He made his debut last week against the Jets, playing 10 snaps and forcing a third-down incompletion on a Zach Wilson throw to Randall Cobb.
“I’m fully healthy now,” Lewis said before Diggs’ injury was revealed. “So going out there and just showing that ability and that my foot is stable enough to go out there and play a full game.”