The proof was in the numbers for the Dallas Cowboys defense last season, as a league-high 34 forced turnovers showed the elite production the team is hopefully capable of replicating in the near future despite an early playoff exit in January.
Pro Football Focus released its list Monday of the top 10 press cornerbacks. Trevon Diggs and Anthony Brown both make an appearance, speaking well of the vast improvements made to the defense overall last season in Dan Quinn’s first year as coordinator.
PFF created a composite score that factors in a weighted average of a cornerback's normalized stats like reps, targets, pass breakups, yards allowed, and more. When averaging it all out, Diggs ranked No. 1 amongst all cornerbacks with a composite score of 2.92, while Brown came in at No. 9 with a composite score of 1.09.
Here's what the rankings had to say about Diggs:
Much ado has been made already about Diggs’ All-Pro 2021 season and how his gaudy interception total may not reflect his true coverage ability. The Athletic's Diante Lee, formerly of PFF, detailed how Diggs’ massive frame — his wingspan is over 6-foot-6 — and ability to maintain top speed allow him to successfully employ a jump-press technique. This is, of course, a risky endeavor and shows up in his low PFF grade. But considering the Cowboys’ middling 2022 schedule and Diggs’ youth, he should still be successful even if he breaks up fewer passes.
And about Brown:
While Brown is certainly great at bullying opposing receivers, leading to his four defensive pass interference penalties against the Raiders in 2021, he plays in an advantageous system in Dallas. Trevon Diggs’ presence allows Brown to frequently match up with an opponent’s No. 2 receiver, and the quick pressure the Cowboys get from Demarcus Lawrence and Micah Parsons minimizes how long he has to cover for. So, while Brown is strong in press coverage, his ranking here is likely inflated due to his environment.
Diggs, of course, led the league with 11 interceptions last season. He was the first player to reach that mark in a single season since former Cowboys cornerback Everson Walls had 11 of his own in 1981.
The Alabama product's knack for interceptions was impressive, but film often showed him playing far off the line in an attempt to avoid getting beat deep. This isn't exactly the kind of action one would see from a press corner. Except ...
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Now, the release of PFF's composite score proves that his press coverage ability was tops in the league. After all, Diggs' ability to quickly recover to the ball for picks allows him to play 10 yards off when necessary and break on the ball when the time is right.
To some Cowboys fans, Brown has been seen as a liability in the secondary at times during his six seasons with the team. But in 2021, he was second on the team in interceptions (three), passes defended (17), and was third in total tackles (59). These were all career highs for the 2016 sixth-round pick.
As mentioned in the rankings, Brown's successes last season could be a result of the elite playmakers littered across the rest of Quinn's unit causing havoc and drawing all the attention. But even in the first 18-game season in league history, he still easily eclipsed his numbers from previous seasons. Credit should be given where it's due.
He'll still need to lower his penalty totals, as Brown's 13 accepted defensive pass interference calls leads all Dallas defensive backs since 2009.
Both Brown and Diggs will have tons to prove in the 2022-23 season. The former could see more balls thrown his way as quarterbacks target him (while continuing to hold off Kelvin Joseph), while the latter will need to show that his 11-pick season wasn't a fluke.
But with top play-caller Quinn at the defensive helm and a front seven that is aiming for a full season of good health, there's no reason why Dallas' secondary can't replicate the impressive numbers of 2021 starting this September.
You can follow Zach Dimmitt on Twitter at @ZachDimmitt7
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