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Do the Dallas Cowboys have a defense? Well, it’s a small sample size but a unit that was historically bad in 2020 by giving up a franchise-record 473 points and finishing 31st against the run has done quite the turnaround so far this season.
Through three games, the Cowboys have forced the most turnovers (8) in the league and are sixth against the run (70.3 yards per game). They’ve done most of this with key guys out due to injury or having to go through COVID protocols. What’s more impressive is that the Cowboys’ defense is being led by several youngsters who are showing that they’re already forces to be reckoned with. With the Carolina Panthers coming to town and a bit hobbled on offense themselves, it will be yet another opportunity for these players to prove they’re ready for big-time NFL action in their young careers.
The rookie defensive tackle didn’t get the warmest reception from folks outside of the Cowboys facility when he was drafted No. 75 overall in the third round. However, how good or bad a player will be in the NFL can’t be determined until he hits the field and Odighizuwa is off to a fast start.
The former UCLA Bruin is currently tied for the team lead with 1.5 sacks and is second in pressures with 10. Also, he has four quarterback hits in the first three games. He should be able to eat once again as Matt Paradis, Dennis Daley and John Miller aren’t exactly lighting it up in pass protection for the Panthers.
Odighizuwa isn’t just a one-trick pony either. Much like he did in college, he has lined up at both defensive tackle and defensive end. Against the Eagles his versatility was on full display as he had 19 snaps at defensive tackle, 10 at defensive end, and four at nose tackle.
— AtoZ Sports Dallas (@AtoZDallas) September 28, 2021
Odighizuwa was projected to be the backup to Neville Gallimore. After Gallimore suffered an elbow injury during the preseason, Odighizuwa got his chance to show his worth.
“Just in terms of guys getting injured and having to step up, that helped me a lot,” Odighizuwa said. “Being able to go against the first team and having the opportunity to get more playing time and experience, I think that is helping in my development.”
Expectations were high for Diggs after leading the Cowboys with three interceptions and 14 pass breakups as a rookie last season. Not only has he met those expectations he’s exceeded them.
Diggs is tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions and is the only NFL player with an interception in all three games. He’s done so by guarding some stiff competition at the wide receiver position like Mike Evans, Keenan Allen, and rookie DeVonta Smith which is nothing to take lightly.
According to Pro Football Focus, his 87.1 coverage grade is tied for first among all cornerbacks. Diggs has an interception in four of his last five games and he already has six in the first 15 games of his career to go along with 20 pass breakups.
Only NFL player with an INT in every game this season:
Trevon Diggs 😤pic.twitter.com/MZkd6AXKd7
— PFF (@PFF) September 28, 2021
Diggs will likely get the challenge of stopping DJ Moore, who leads Carolina with 285 receiving yards on the season. The 5-foot-11, 215 pound former Maryland Terrapin has eight receptions in each of the last two contests and his 31 targets is just one shy of the combined total of the next three highest players who will be active for the Panthers in this game.
The focus for Diggs in the offseason was to work on his hands. He wasn’t satisfied that he got his hands on 14 passes and only got three interceptions in 2020. So, he put on his hard hat and went to work.
“I’m a new corner, so I have to put in that work,” Diggs said. “A lot of these other corners have a lot of years on me. I have to put in that work just to be good or even better than them. I’ve got to put in those hours. I’ve got to put in that time. It’s just something that my family comes from, just working hard and grinding.”
There aren’t enough words to describe what Parsons does for the Cowboys’ defense. In just three games, he’s established himself as the swiss army knife of the defense and its biggest playmaker.
After DeMarcus Lawrence broke a bone in his foot and was lost for six to eight weeks, Parsons went from playing linebacker to being more of a defensive end, and it’s paid off. Parsons has amassed 13 tackles, six quarterback hits, two passes defended, and a team-leading 15 pressures in his first three games as a pro.
It’s unknown how Quinn will use Parsons once the aforementioned Lawrence and Dorance Armstrong return. However, Parsons has proved in a short amount of time his skills can be spread out in different areas. So much so that he’s the highest-graded rookie of 2021 according to Pro Football Focus.
Cowboys rookie Micah Parsons with TFL of Eagles QB Jalen Hurts. Cowboys ball to start Q2, 14-7 lead.pic.twitter.com/jjKqdOSAt6
— Jori Epstein (@JoriEpstein) September 28, 2021
His matchup against the Panthers will be interesting. Former Cowboys Cam Erving has been manning the left tackle spot to protect Sam Darnold this season. While he hasn’t given up a sack, he’s given up two QB hits and six hurries in three games. On the opposite side, Taylor Moton has allowed seven hurries but hasn’t let a defender touch Darnold as of yet. His 15 QB pressures lead the team but he also has seven run stops, so he’ll have a chance to make impact plays even if his focus starts off the line of scrimmage. That’s especially true without McCaffrey in the game.
Whether he’s playing linebacker or defensive end, Parsons is focused on being a difference-maker.
“I’m just out there. I’m going to make an impact. I don’t believe it really should matter. I mean, you look at (Jalen) Ramsey. He played outside corner now he’s playing nickel like…If you’re a dog, you’re going to be a dog,” Parsons said. “It shouldn’t matter where you’re at on the field. You should have unbelievable effort and the tenacity to go out there and try to win the game for the team.”