Cowboys Rookie Review: Analyzing Trevon Diggs Debut
CeeDee Lamb was the ‘showy name’ in terms of Dallas Cowboys rookies in the season opener with the Los Angeles Rams. But Trevon Diggs was the only Cowboys rookie to play every snap of Sunday’s loss.
Yep, Diggs, the second-round pick in April, played all 73 of the Cowboys’ defensive snaps. Diggs started as part of a five-defensive back alignment. The Cowboys were already without linebacker Sean Lee and then lost linebacker Leighton Vander Esch to a broken collarbone in the first half. That left the Cowboys with three active linebackers for the rest of the game.
Lamb started as well and finished with five catches for 59 yards. But he only played 59 out of the offense’s 72 plays.
Diggs’ productivity wasn’t as flashy as Lamb’s. Diggs had two tackles and one assist. The higher productivity should come, especially if the Cowboys are going to play Diggs that much.
And they are, Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy making it clear this week that, "I don’t have any hesitations playing the young man. He has earned a starting cornerback position, for so many good reasons.”
One of those tackles came in the second quarter as he was attempting to defend a pass from Rams quarterback Jared Goff to wide receiver Van Jefferson, a pass that was so good that it hit Jefferson for a 31-yard gain. And if you go back and watch that play you’ll notice that Diggs was in one-on-one coverage, stayed with Jefferson stride for stride and Goff just put the football in the one place Diggs couldn’t get to it.
But with the Cowboys trying to tie the game in the final few minutes of the game, the Cowboys needed a stop to force the Rams to punt the football and give the Cowboys one last shot. And Diggs was the player that made the tackle.
It was third-and-3 at the Rams’ 47-yard line. With the clock rolling and the Cowboys sitting on one timeout, the Rams were looking to milk the clock, run the ball and, hopefully, move the chain. The Rams were in a power run formation, with one back (Cam Akers) and one receiver to the right. The Cowboys countered with nine players in the box, including five down linemen. Diggs is part of the second line of defense in the box, set up in the slot on the left side of the Rams’ offensive line.
With eight Rams and nine Cowboys, theoretically the Cowboys have one free tackler, depending upon which way Akers runs. Goff pitched it to Akers and he headed to the left side, where he had five blockers (two of which were receivers and one of which was a tight end).
If you’re Diggs, you’re first trying to diagnose what the Rams are doing up front. The two receivers on that side, Cooper Kupp (10) and Robert Woods (17), were there to seal off whatever they could. Meanwhile, the tight end, Tyler Higbee (89), and the left tackle, Andrew Whitworth (77), pulled around Kupp and Wodds. The left guard, Joe Noteboom, went upfield. In the overhead shot you’ll see four Cowboys in that area. With five Rams in that grouping, the Rams had to feel pretty good about getting the three yards needed to move the chains.
But Diggs isn’t even in the frame at the start of the overhead shot. He’s to the left, off the screen, and he’s watching what’s developing in front of him. He’s looking for the lane, the lane that Akers is going to try and take to get the first down. The Cowboys want to stretch the play out as far as they can to give Diggs, or any Cowboy defender, a chance to make a play.
When Diggs (No. 27) finally comes into the screen he actually looks like he’s out of the play. That wall of Rams is coming and there is another Cowboys defensive back, Darian Thompson (23), on the leading edge of the defense. But Higbee is headed right for him and works to seal him off at the numbers.
Akers has the ball now and he has a couple of problems. First, Cowboys lineman Trysten Hill (72) is free of the pile and in pursuit. The second is that lane that Akers had hoped would be there, well, isn’t. Despite the Rams having the numbers, the Cowboys have done enough to string out the play. Akers now has only one option — a race to the sideline. The good news is that he can likely outrun Hill. But he needs one more thing. He needs Whitworth to make a decision. There are two Cowboys in front of him, Diggs to his left and linebacker Joe Thomas (48) to his right. Whitworth’s decision is critical here, both to Akers and to Diggs. He can’t block both. He has to choose one. And he chooses to seal off Thomas.
So Higbee has Thompson. Whitworth has Thomas. Hill is in full pursuit of Akers but Akers still has the edge. And Diggs can slide between the pair of engaged blockers and take his shot.
Diggs got one last assist. We mentioned that Hill was in pursuit. Well, Hill never caught Akers. But he did just enough to force Akers to be aware of him and string himself out just a bit further to the edge. With Diggs now free and Akers trying to get the first down, the only question is who wins.
The thing is, Akers actually gets to the edge. He actually turns the corner on Diggs. But Diggs got his arms around Akers as he turned the corner and was able to whip Akers around, killing the back’s momentum toward the first down marker and taking him to the ground to set up fourth down. The Cowboys weren’t able to cash in offensively, of course. But Diggs’ play at least gave them a chance.
The Cowboys knew what they were getting in Diggs — a highly-talented, productive player from one of the premier college programs in the country. It's why this week Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said he wouldn't shy away from having Diggs cover Julio Jones this week in the Atlanta at Dallas game.
He also had one of the best sparring partners one could ask for in his older brother, Stefon, a receiver with the Buffalo Bills. Those traits were on full display during that one play late in the game, and as the season goes on Cowboys fans will likely start to get a fuller taste of what Diggs can offer.