This Dallas Cowboys defense appears to be embracing the need for more turnovers in 2021. The results are starting to pile up, and pay dividends.
After creating four turnovers in the season opener against Tampa Bay, the Cowboys (1-1) created a pair on Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers in a last-second 20-17 win. Both were interceptions, one by cornerback Trevon Diggs in the first half and the most important by safety Damontae Kazee in the Red Zone. The Kazee interception was especially crucial, as it came in the end zone as the Chargers were attempting to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
Kazee, a ball-hawking favorite of new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, got playing time on Sunday in part because Donovan Wilson was unable to play due to injury.
Sunday’s interceptions are just one of the promising defensive trends after two games.
The Cowboys have four interceptions in two games so far this season. Lewis and Jourdan Lewis did the honors last week. Now, four interceptions sounds great, right? Well, it sounds even better when you compare it to what the Cowboys did all of last year. They had just 10 interceptions, and Diggs had three of them.
Simple math tells us that the Cowboys, on that pace, will pick off 34 passes this season (two per game multiplied by 17 games). Now, that won’t happen, of course. But, in recent history, the Cowboys have had trouble creating interceptions and turnovers alike. Dallas forced 23 turnovers last season, even though that total was among the Top 10 in the NFL.
The fact that the Dallas defense has four interceptions in two games is cause for joy for the Cowboys, who have gone to great pains this offseason to find players and a scheme that can accomplish this elusive goal.
But it gets more promising.
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Diggs is making the second-round pick the Cowboys spent on him in 2020 look better and better. The second-year corner not only has two interceptions in two games, he now has five interceptions in his 14 NFL starts. Diggs finished last season with three interceptions. Before that, the last time a Cowboys cornerback or safety had three or more interceptions in a season was Jeff Heath in 2017.
Diggs became the first player to pick off a pass in the Cowboys' first two games of the season since linebacker Lee Roy Jordan in 1975.
Again, Diggs likely won’t maintain the pace he’s on. But his are the sort of game-changing plays the Cowboys were hoping for when they drafted him.
Plus, last year the Cowboys were, well, turnover-challenged to start the season. The Cowboys forced one turnover in their first two games in 2020. So, forcing six turnovers to start this season is a quantum leap for this unit.
But, to be fair, the momentum was built in the latter stages of last season. Starting with the Cowboys’ Week 11 game with the Vikings, the Cowboys have forced a turnover in every game since (a streak of nine games through Sunday), forced multiple turnovers in seven of those games and has forced multiple turnovers in six straight games through Sunday.
The Cowboys have forced an average of 2.4 turnovers per game in that nine-game stretch. Their record? A modest 5-4.
It feels like it’s just a matter of time before the won-loss record catches up with the rate of return on those turnovers. And once that happens, the Cowboys may gather steam fast.
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You can reach Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.