Trevon Diggs’ ‘see ball, get ball’ methodology has been feasting unbridled amid a quite remarkable start to the season for the Dallas Cowboys cornerback.
The second-year ball-hawk/ball-magnet/ball-pick pocket has seven interceptions through the opening six games of the campaign, tied most in the Super Bowl era and more than the combined four recorded between every other cornerback drafted in 2020. We’re listening…
Barry Wilburn, Brian Russell and Tom Landry are the only other players to have ever started a season with an interception in each of their first six games, Sunday’s matchup against the Minnesota Vikings awaiting as an opportunity for Diggs to make NFL history as the first to do it in seven. Right, not bad…
What’s more, he is the only player in the Super Bowl era to have snagged seven-plus interceptions as well as multiple Pick Sixes in his team’s opening six games, and is on pace to shatter the Cowboys’ single-season franchise record of 11 interceptions set by Everson Wallis in 1981. ‘You had our curiosity, now you have our attention…’
The job of Cowboys cornerback comes accompanied, maybe burdened, with Deion Sanders-infused expectations. Diggs isn’t Prime Time, but he is putting up the kind of numbers the two-time Super Bowl champion and former Defensive Player of the Year would be proud of. Folks in Dallas are excited.
Dallas Cowboys defensive line coach Aden Durde joins Neil Reynolds on Inside The Huddle to discuss their great start to the season – and Diggs’ remarkable interception streak
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn asks a lot from his defense as he tries to tinker and advance the Cover 1/Cover 3 staple looks implemented with the Legion of Boom in Seattle while blending them with the modern ‘quarters’ coverage that accounts for the deep overs and horizontal designs. His scheme has in some ways suited Diggs, whose boom-or-bust approach in jumping routes seems to match Quinn’s desire to let his unit play free-flowing, instinctive defense.
Diggs plays gutsy and on the edge. He trusts his ball skills and range to triumph and, if necessary, readjust at the point of engagement, while occasionally tempering aggression with softer coverage that allows him to rely on his shut-down speed. The ability for him to close space so quickly and size to match up with bigger receivers and tight ends has also given Quinn the freedom to utilise him as a box safety at times when Dallas are comfortable allowing the shallow routes in order to cut off the deep ball or when defending a RedZone scenario.
His success might look like ‘robber’ or ‘trap’ coverage such can be his late entry or ‘where did he come from?’ play on the ball. He is baiting quarterbacks with a front-foot assurance that, at the same time, will always risk conceding chunk plays. He knows that, Quinn knows that, but they have little reason to deviate right now.
Brave and bold is what the Cowboys needed after collecting just 10 interceptions last year and ranking 23rd in DVOA on defense, which calculates a team’s efficiency based on down-and-distance of each play. Dallas have 11 picks so far in 2021 and enter Week Eight ranked 10th in DVOA. The key now is making sure the turnovers don’t dry up.
Diggs was lined up on Mike Evans for the majority of the Cowboys’ Week One loss to the Buccaneers, and largely kept Tampa Bay’s all-time receiving touchdown leader quiet. It happened to be while covering Evans that his first interception on the year came about.
The Cowboys are showing zone on the strong side of the formation – underlined as Anthony Brown passes off a motioning Chris Godwin – with Diggs iso’d in press against Evans on the weak side. Quinn shifts into quarters coverage upon the ball being snapped as the Bucs leave three rushers unblocked after Godwin motions back the way he came to drag Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith into the flat, at which point Diggs spots the screen and smears off Evans.
From there, he switches on the after-burners to shut down the space and upon arriving squared up to Leonard Fournette puts on the brakes to position himself for the pick after Tom Brady’s pass had bobbled through the hands of his running back. This was as much testament to his athleticism and explosiveness as it was to his reaction time and decisiveness.
Partly a gift, partly urgency and conviction and just elite speed.
He offered a glimpse of how his athleticism enables him to recover later in the game, Evans this time, in a rare occurrence on the day, beating his man on a stop-and-go down the sideline to give Brady the signal, only for Diggs to back-peddle and use every inch of his six-foot-one frame to leap just high enough for him to deflect the ball short of the Bucs receiver.
Diggs added Justin Herbert to his hit-list in Week Two’s victory over the Los Angeles Chargers with arguably the best of the seven so far.
The Cowboys are showing man Cover 1 on the Chargers’ opening drive with Diggs shaded over Keenan Allen on the weak side. Upon the snap, Jourdan Lewis shadows the deep over and Damontae Kazee brackets the go, while Allen’s sharp inside release has granted him immediate separation on Diggs before the Chargers craftsman breaks into his over route for what is shaping up as a simple chunk pickup for an arm of Herbert’s zip.
Instead, Diggs produces phenomenal second-effort recovery speed to hunt down Allen before drawing on those long arms once again for a spectacular snatch-and-grab. Keanu Neal also comes off looking nice for his positioning as the ‘buzz’ defender in front of Allen’s inside break that delays Herbert’s release perhaps a split second longer than he would have liked.
Again, it’s the same maximum effort risk-it-all ‘gimme’ that Diggs knows could land him in trouble if Allen comes away with the catch. He commits, and in doing so rescues himself after being left momentarily stranded at the line of scrimmage.
Dallas Cowboys cornerback Diggs picked off Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and took it to the endzone
His third interception on the year was a blend of both explosiveness and situational football. Diggs predicts Devonta Smith’s out-route before displaying the ball skills expected of a former wide receiver along with the decisiveness and speed to jump in ahead of his, albeit stumbling, former Alabama teammate and run away for the 59-yard pick six on an Eagles second-and-10 while trailing 20-7 at the beginning of the third quarter.
Notice how he retreats three steps pre-snap; it’s an ever-so subtle but vital adjustment to his angle of attack as he counts on his acceleration and length to make up the difference, which it does. Granted, Jalen Hurts stares his man down and Smith is off balance, but Diggs knew it was coming regardless.
Situational awareness was evidenced again in Week Four’s victory over the Carolina Panthers as both of his two interceptions thwarted third downs.
The first came on third-and-five with 3.48 to play in the third and the Cowboys leading 26-14, with Diggs floating between a curl/flat and middle/hook role in zone. Sam Darnold is baited into perhaps expecting Diggs to drop and follow Terrace Marshall’s wide-open post route (most people probably would), but the Cowboys defender stays put in what evolves into a ‘trap’ look before wrestling ahead of Robby Anderson to make the pick. Here was a demonstration of the hand eye coordination and conviction to break on the ball, but also an example of Quinn’s freedom to vary his responsibilities.
Diggs was manning a deep half, but knew Darnold wanted the crosser and trusted himself enough to stay the course.
His second against the Panthers came on third-and-three on Carolina’s next drive. On this occasion Diggs is iso’d against D.J. Moore on the weak side and pre-meditates the curl route, turning on the jets to win the race with Darnold’s pass and once more exploit his long arms to come away with the ball.
As with the Hurts pick, it’s sloppy quarterback play but it’s also about Diggs backing his instincts and recognising the situation.
“I’ve learned in practice when and where to not throw at Trevon Diggs,” said quarterback Dak Prescott after the Panthers game. “When he gets those INTs, I’m like, ‘Yea, I understand.'”
Interception No. 6 came in the win over the New York Giants, for whom Mike Glennon was under center for much of the game following Daniel Jones’ departure due to a concussion.
Again. A Cover 3 look, Diggs lined up in press one-on-one against CJ Board. He back-peddles a couple of strides pre-snap to give himself a head-start on the inevitable deep post and then shows tremendous chase-down speed while keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the, admittedly underthrown, ball to beat the Giants receiver to the trajectory.
Kazee had also been important as he maintained loose bracket coverage on Board for as long as possible before trusting Diggs to replace him high in the ‘jump’ play and stepping down to monitor the dig route.
Diggs actually finds himself in trouble at one stage as the outside leverage favours Board. But out comes the burst and receiver-like ball tracking followed by the catch radius to elongate backwards and finish the play. Not many cornerbacks make that play, even fewer make it with such the style of a natural pass catcher.
Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs on his pick-6 vs. Patriots: “They were running it all game. I seen it on film, the double slant to the front side. I just read it and made a play on the ball. He tipped it and it just fell in my hands.
“There was no stopping me.”pic.twitter.com/gd5H0mc0hJ
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) October 18, 2021
His latest interception starred in one of the more dramatic finishes to a game so far this season as he pounced on Mac Jones’ bobbled pass to run in a pick six for a 26-21 Cowboys lead from a Patriots second-and-15 with 2.27 to play in the fourth quarter of Dallas’ eventual overtime win.
First off, Kazee is crucially at hand to usher Neal over to Brandon Bolden on the outside of the formation which enables a hovering Diggs to side-step in line with Bourne for a better angle ahead of his crossing route. He plays soft initially because he knows he can, relying on his speed to slam the door shut on the receiver’s separation before producing the reflexes and precision timing to gobble up the loose ball.
The next drive alluded to the joy that can also be found in targeting Diggs and Quinn’s Cover 1/Cover 3 approach as the second-round pick was comfortably beaten by Bourne’s out-and-up route that would result in a 75-yard touchdown. As much as it appeared a poor decision and mis-read from Kazee to make a jump on the ball as the high safety, which actually left it looking as though the pair had got in each other’s way, this was also evidence of the improvement that could be made to Diggs’ footwork and change of direction.
Earlier in the season, he had been put in a blender by Kadarius Toney’s out-route whip that led to a 35-yard catch-and-run; against the Panthers, he was wise to the inside fake from D.J. Moore but found himself trailing on a go-route that could have ended in chunk yardage were it for a better ball from Darnold.
Walk-off TD! Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott’s 35-yard loft to wide receiver CeeDee Lamb wins it in overtime.
The route-running of Allen was also a valuable test against the Chargers. One play saw the four-time Pro Bowl receiver sneak behind Diggs for a 22-yard catch on the sideline after Herbert’s eyes and head angle had dragged the high safety over to double-team Mike Williams in order to prevent bracket coverage, simultaneously leaving Diggs in two minds as to whether he should pin Allen or step up to Jalen Guyton’s out-route. As far responses go, his interception came on the very next play.
Allen prevailed again later in the contest as he escaped Diggs with ease on his release, which by now is up there with the very best in the league, to convert a third-and-15 with a 42-yard pickup. He’s not the first to surrender to Allen’s footwork, nor would he ever be the last. But it was just a nod to an area of the game that could help him pad those stats even more.
No. 1 receivers are his responsibility, now. And on Sunday he meets one of the NFL’s finest route-runners when he comes up against Justin Jefferson. Gamble wrong, and he knows he’ll be punished. Not that it will deter the certified playmaker Quinn and the Cowboys needed.
Dick ‘Night Train’ Lane holds the record for most single-season interceptions with 14 in 1952. Diggs couldn’t, could he?
A word of warning to Kirk Cousins. Watch where you’re throwing when No. 7 is in town.
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