And to think, he didn’t even play the fourth quarter.
Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs, hot off being selected as the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month for September, promptly kept the takeaway train a-rolling in the first game of October, snagging two interceptions against Carolina on Sunday.
When he remained on the sideline with Dallas up 36-14, it was originally called “player management” by the Cowboys. A shame, because Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold took to the air in a desperate comeback attempt, putting up 16 passes in the final quarter. He completed 12 of them for 143 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But the way Diggs has been playing to start his second season, it’s not a reach to believe he just might have gotten another pick had he been in the game.
It turns out that taking a foot in the back during the first half is what really kept the 24-year-old off the field for the end of the game.
“They wanted to hold me,” Diggs said of the team’s medical staff. “Didn’t want to risk it; just had back tightness.”
According to Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, his cornerback phenom could have re-entered the contest had the 38-26 final score gotten any closer.
“He could’ve returned in the game if needed to,” the coach explained in his postgame press conference. “I think he got a cleat on it.”
Trevon Diggs has more interceptions (5) than 27 other NFL teams pic.twitter.com/pfXIYmFBPs
— PFF (@PFF) October 4, 2021
That’s about the only way any opponent has gotten a leg up on Diggs lately. His pair of picks on Sunday gave him five over the first four games of the schedule. That’s the best start to a season since Darren Sharper did it for New Orleans in 2009.
He’s racked up eight interceptions over his first 16 games as a pro, so his teammates are practically banking on it to happen every game now.
“Diggs is balling,” rookie Micah Parsons raved. “He’s a guy that comes in every day and competes. You saw him on Hard Knocks, this guy challenging [Cowboys wideout Amari] Coop[er], ‘You’re not going to catch a ball. You’re not going to catch a ball.’ Wants to be on the best receiver, wants to compete with these guys. It’s just showing up on Sundays now. It’s something I expect from Diggs at this point. I was like, ‘I know you’re going to get one. It’s just a matter of when you’re going to get one.’”
But Diggs upped the ante even further with defensive end Randy Gregory.
“Diggs is funny,” Gregory told reporters after the win, “because I told him before the game, ‘I need one.’ He said, ‘I’m going to get you two.’ I’m like, ‘All right…’ So he got that first one, and I thought we were good; he did his job. Then he got that second one- I didn’t even know he picked it off. ‘Did he really pick off another one?’ And [Panthers lineman and former Cowboy] Cam Erving came up and told me, ‘Man, he got another one.’”
Sam Darnold was 2-of-7 for 34 yards and 2 Int when #Cowboys CB Trevon Diggs was the nearest defender in coverage Sunday per NFL Next Gen Stats. Opponents are now 11-of-25 with 5 Int when Diggs is the nearest defender this season.
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) October 4, 2021
The only downside to Diggs’s torrid pace is that opposing quarterbacks could decide to just stop testing him. But Diggs is eager to keep adding to his totals.
“No, I don’t want them to stop throwing,” He said. “Keep throwing. I need more.”
One passer has already learned his lesson. He happens to wear the same uniform as Diggs.
“Honestly, that’s Diggs,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott told media members from the podium on Sunday. “Some of these interceptions he’s getting, I learned long ago in the spring not to try him on those routes and those plays. When he gets interceptions, I almost laugh: ‘Yeah, I understand.’ I go back to last year’s training camp when he picked me off in back-to-back two-minute drills. I knew then that there are certain routes and certain concepts that you’ve got to know where he is, and you’ve got to know his position. He’s just a hell of a player, and he’s going to continue to get interceptions just because of the way he studies, because of the way he goes about the game. He’s an instinctive player. Obviously, he has hands. He’s an old receiver, so he’s disguising a lot of these guys.”
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott congratulated CB Trevon Diggs today on winning NFC Defensive Player of Month. Then told Diggs it doesn’t mean anything. “He understood. He said, ‘You’re right.’ He said, ‘It doesn’t mean anything to me.’ He’s hungry for more. This is just the beginning.” pic.twitter.com/iIpl76s2ww
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) September 30, 2021
Diggs played wide receiver at Alabama until coach Nick Saban convinced him to move to cornerback. Now he uses those same route-running tricks against the top pass-catching option for the Cowboys’ competition each week.
“That’s what he wants,” McCarthy revealed, “and those are the opportunities that he should have. He’s earned that. He’s playing number one confidence, purely in that back end. The way he breaks on the ball, he has as fine of hands as [anyone on any team] that I’ve been a part of in this league, the way he goes after the football.”
“When you’re matching up, you really just look at the receiver, look at how he moves,” Diggs explained. “At the end of the day, he has to run a route, and I know routes, and I study routes more so than I study the receiver. So whatever they do, whatever routes they like to run, I study that and focus on that and just try to make plays in the game.”
And when the ball is in the air, Diggs considers it a 50/50 proposition between himself and the intended target.
“I feel like if they throw it and I can get it, I’m going to get it before he gets it.”
He’s gotten five in four games. And his coach sees the needle continuing to go up.
“I mean, Player of the Month, working on second month of the season,” McCarthy marveled. “He’s playing with phenomenal confidence. Obviously, took the big responsibility today, watching their top receiver. Delivered with two huge plays there in the second half. Playing at a very high level right now. It’s awesome.”
It’s been a remarkable run to start 2021. But Diggs says he’s not even close to done.
“I feel like I’ve still got work to do. I haven’t reached what I wanted to reach, and I haven’t accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, so I feel like I’ve still got work to do. Everything is great, but I’ve still got to fight, and I’ve still got to keep pushing, keep working. That’s my main focus.”
There are several more months left to the season. Several more Player of the Month awards to be handed out.
But truth be told, Diggs is more focused on making a splash in February than September or October.