Cowboys secondary issues warning to rest of NFL: ‘Don’t throw the ball’
Sep. 13, 2023 8:43 p.m. ET
One of the biggest hits the Dallas Cowboys defense delivered on Sunday night didn’t come from their front seven. It also wasn’t a hit on the Giants’ battered quarterback Daniel Jones.
It was delivered by Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs on Giants running back Saquon Barkley. And it came before Barkley could even turn his head after catching a pass. It was hard, powerful, perfectly timed and it popped the ball loose, right into the hands of cornerback DaRon Bland, who returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
That hit, and the accompanying Pick-6, made the score 16-0 just 12 ½ minutes into the game on Sunday night, but it was the moment the Cowboys sensed the life had completely come out of the Giants.
It also delivered a statement from the Cowboys’ secondary:
“Don’t throw the ball,” Diggs said.
The Cowboys’ swarming, overwhelming pass rush may have gotten most of the praise after Dallas crushed the Giants 40-0 at the Meadowlands on Sunday night, but it would be a big mistake for future opponents to overlook the talent in the Cowboys’ secondary. They are loaded on the back end with ballhawks, hard-hitters, emerging talent and star veterans.
The Dallas secondary seems to have it all.
Against the Giants, they picked off two Daniel Jones passes, forced two fumbles, were credited with six passes defensed, and they certainly helped out on some of the seven sacks with great coverage that took away Jones’ ability to get rid of the ball fast. And they did it all while playing without starting safety Donovan Wilson, who missed the game with an injured calf.
“It’s just a bunch of dogs,” said Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse. “There’s really not much to say about it. It’s just a bunch of dogs. It’s on film. When you turn the tape on, from the top to the bottom, we’ve got guys that are going to get after it.”
Nobody did that better in the opener than Diggs, who forced a fourth-quarter fumble, forced that first-quarter interception, and was part of the blanket coverage that made it almost impossible for Jones to find an open receiver. It was Diggs’ first game after signing a 5-year, $97 million contract extension this summer. It was also his first chance to shake off the criticism that came from his disappointing 2022 season, when he struggled to make tackles and picked off only three passes — a long way from the 11 he had back in 2021.
“Tre has been a dog,” Kearse said. “People nitpick all of the time. He brushes it off and just keeps playing ball. He’s been that way. You’re talking about a guy that went and got 11 picks. He comes back the next year and gets three and takes away a whole side of the field, and then has to hear about, ‘Oh, he doesn’t tackle. He doesn’t tackle.
“After he made those plays, he walked to the sideline and said, ‘What now?'”
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Nobody was nitpicking after that hit on Barkley, when Jones led the running back into the left flat and Diggs read it perfectly. He came from Barkley’s backside, lowered his head and went right at the football. Barkley doesn’t cough up the ball much, but he was clearly jarred by the big hit.
It ended up setting the tone for the rest for the game.
“I was really proud of him for that,” said Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “It was a great hit. He couldn’t have timed it any better. Then knocking another one out later. It’s really having a mindfulness approach to get the football. He wasn’t going in there to do anything other than hit and good things came out of it.”
The Cowboys have a lot of players in the back of their defense who can do that. Bland, who got the Pick-6 off the Diggs hit on Barkley, had a team-leading five interceptions last season. And the other interception against the Giants came from new Cowboys cornerback Stephon Gilmore, one of their biggest offseason acquisitions.
Six months later, they still can’t believe they got the 32-year-old, five-time Pro Bowler from Indianapolis for only a fifth-round pick.
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“He’s an incredible route reader, just the pattern of concepts and understanding of the stems,” said Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy. “The way he sees the game is exceptional. I look back at (Hall of Fame corner) Charles Woodson and some of those guys that had that special trait, and he definitely has that.”
Add in safety Malik Hooker (3 interceptions last season), Kearse and Wilson (when he’s healthy) and the Cowboys are convinced they have a special secondary. Thanks to the pass rush, they weren’t necessarily in the spotlight on Sunday night — because, as Kearse said, “We didn’t have to cover long” — but they still made an impact and frustrated the Giants quarterback and receiver.
And when a team has a pass rush as fierce as the Cowboys do and a secondary filled with potentially great players, it’s no wonder they believe, as Micah Parsons boasted after the game, that “We’re the best defense in the National Football League.”
They have a chance to prove that includes the NFL’s best secondary, too.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and . He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at.
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