Trevon Diggs tore his ACL in practice on Thursday afternoon, and he will be out for the rest of the year. There’s no way around it, it is a massive loss for the Cowboys defense that has played like one of the best groups in the history of the league through two games. Diggs signed a five-year, $97 million contract before the season, and had been playing the best ball of his career in the Cowboys opening games, leading quarterbacks to be strongly advised not to throw the ball in his direction, regardless of who he was covering.
But now that he’s out, this Cowboys team, with their Super Bowl aspirations, has to find a way to continue to play very good defense without one of the best corners in the league. The old football adage is “next man up”, and it’s true but it doesn’t tell the entire story.
The Cowboys will likely move second-year corner back DaRon Bland to play outside corner full time with Diggs injured for the year. Bland has been an incredible find since getting an opportunity due to injury in 2022, and now the Cowboys will need him to continue to step up in a major way in 2023.
But what about the inside? How do the Cowboys now handle slot receivers?
Jourdan Lewis, who spent multiple seasons as the Cowboys “starting” nickel corner likely steps in to take most of the work there, but if we know Dan Quinn at all, we know he will take a carpet bomb style approach to this situation.
One of the biggest strengths of this Cowboys roster is the safety position, which Quinn uses as a sort of malleable plug to fill needs wherever they pop up. We will certainly see safety Israel Mukuamu get snaps in the slot, as well as Jayron Kearse, Donovan Wilson (who should be returning from an injury of his own soon), and Juanyeh Thomas. These guys provide the physicality required of a slot corner in the running game which is very important for a team that plays as many sub-packages as this team does. With Malik Hooker playing over the top of them and giving them support, they’ve also shown the ability to play well enough in man coverage that the Cowboys defense should still function at a very high level.
The big wild card in this scenario is Noah Igbinoghene, who the Cowboys traded for at the start of the season. He was drafted by the Dolphins to be a true outside, man-to-man corner, but when they moved from that style of defense to Vic Fangio’s umbrella zone based system, he no longer fit. If he becomes a viable option outside for the Cowboys, it will make this transition even easier for Quinn and the Cowboys.