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After record-setting year, Cowboys' All-Pro CB Trevon Diggs wants to 'stack my success'

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FRISCO, Texas—Trevon Diggs questioned the question.

“What chances?” the Cowboys All-Pro cornerback said Tuesday night. “I don’t know what ‘taking chances’ means. I play football.”

Coach Mike McCarthy aimed to clarify the query.

“Chances or playing aggressive?” he said when asked Thursday after the team’s final OTA practice. “I think there’s a fine line of playing between that.”

The Cowboys defense improved drastically last season fueled in large part by second-year cornerback Trevon Diggs’ 11 interceptions. But as the offseason drags on, and NFL fans consider what to do with time on their hands, some are asking: Did Diggs’ production more fully resemble the skillset of a player with rare ball skills, or the proclivities of a defender willing to give up some big plays to make even bigger ones?

Trevon Diggs intercepts a pass against Washington in 2021.
Trevon Diggs intercepts a pass against Washington in 2021.

The tenuous balance is one Diggs hopes to strike even more precisely entering his third professional season and sixth-ever season playing cornerback, something Diggs acknowledges in saying “I’m still new to playing corner so there’s a lot of things I have to work on.”

McCarthy understands the philosophical quandary—while also encouraging Diggs to channel the instincts that fueled his 2021 success.

“You don’t get that way by playing cautious,” McCarthy said. “It’s a balance. He’s young. Big-play production, you got to have it to score points and stop points in this league.”

‘Meat left on the bone’

Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn lauded Diggs’ ability to track the ball and Diggs’ receiver upbringing fueling Dallas’ league-high 34 takeaways. And yet, Pro Football Reference’s advanced statistics credit him with missing 16.1% of his tackle attempts and allowing 411 yards after the catch (25.68 per game) in addition to 496 by air. Fellow first-team All Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, in comparison, missed just 6.1% of tackles and allowed 303 yards after the catch. (Second-team All-Pro cornerbacks Jackson and A.J. Terrell allowed 253 and 199 yards after the catch, respectively. Jackson ranged in Diggs’ big-play territory missing 15.9% of tackles while Terrell limited his whiffs to just 6.9%.)

Diggs wasn’t alone among Dallas defenders who surrendered big plays.

The Cowboys ranked seventh in points allowed, 11th in rushing defense and 20th against the pass. But just two teams were burned for more pass plays of 40+ yards than the Cowboys at 14. Only three clubs yielded more receptions of 20+ yards than the Cowboys’ 62. The Cowboys similarly ranked among the league’s most likely teams to allow a big run: only the Steelers and Jets ceded more rushing plays of 20+ yards than the Cowboys’ 14.

Safety Jayron Kearse, who notched a team-high 101 tackles last season, emphasized the importance of discipline in reversing the trend. Kearse missed just 3.8% of tackles, per Pro Football Reference.

“A lot of things that happened was maybe guys being too greedy,” Kearse, who led the Cowboys with 101 tackles in 2021, said Thursday from his locker after practice. “You see something and want to jump it to go make a play but it’s not that. Or maybe you broke down too soon and you should have continued to close the ground before you broke down and made the tackle.

“There was a lot of meat left on that bone.”

Trevon Diggs celebrates an interception against the Saints in 2021.
Trevon Diggs celebrates an interception against the Saints in 2021.

Stacking success

Like in a series of jumped-and-intercepted routes last season, Diggs is focused on looking forward. He’ll build off skillsets and the defensive system understanding he gained last year. But he knows his slate again has wiped clean, his past performance not necessarily predictive of future productivity.

“I want to try to stack my success,” Diggs said. “Keep grinding. Work at the little things and just focus on next season.”

He’s angling for work where possible, even resorting to verbally goading Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to throw his way in practice more in what fellow All-Pro defender Micah Parsons described as “bring(ing) out the dog a little bit early.” Diggs said he intercepted Prescott twice through the first two weeks of OTAs.

McCarthy said Thursday that the Cowboys defense has worked in OTAs on improving their disguises in hopes to gain both physical and mental game-time advantage rather than settle for a “bend, don’t break” philosophy.

Diggs hopes opposing quarterbacks continue to throw in his direction in 2022, embracing any tests and chances at game-changing plays. McCarthy, to the contrary, said evasion would indicate respect.

“I’m clearly in tune with some of the plays that were made against him,” McCarthy said. “But hey: the guy gets his hands on the ball and he’s a dangerous weapon.

“The ultimate compliment is when they stop throwing over there. That will be the goal.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys' Trevon Diggs wants to 'stack success' after historic 2021