ARLINGTON, Texas — Losing Pro Bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs, whose 18 career interceptions since 2020 are tied for the most in the NFL with New England Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, was a big blow for the Dallas Cowboys’ top-five scoring defense, but second-year cornerback DaRon Bland, a fifth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, has seamlessly transitioned to playing outside corner in 2023. Bland recorded his third pick-six of the season, the most in the NFL, on his 30-yard interception return touchdown of Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford’s pass that was intended for Cooper Kupp. The pick-six put the Cowboys ahead by 14 — 17-3 — a big momentum swing in the Cowboys’ 43-20 demolition of the Rams on Sunday.
3RD PICK-6 OF THE YEAR FOR DARON BLAND 🔥
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The Cowboys’ heavy blitz up the middle forced Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford to make a throw quickly, and Bland was waiting for him to attempt a pass to the outside flat toward Cooper Kupp. Bland’s three interception-return touchdowns are the most in a season in Cowboys history.
“I saw Cooper Kupp was in a stack, and it seemed like he had an option route, so he broke out and then once he turned, I saw that ball,” Bland said postgame on Sunday. “I said ‘Thank you God.'”
He is now only one more pick-six away from tying the NFL single-season record of four, which was last accomplished by Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Eric Allen in 1993.
“It means a lot,” Bland said. “You know [Trevon] Diggs, he was always wanting to get the ball. Just being able to step in, it feels good.”
Bland was never guaranteed playtime since he was a fifth-round pick out of Sacramento State, but his emergence now has Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones taking a victory lap on his selection during the middle of Bland’s second season.
“You’ve got to really check that box, you don’t have them right a lot of times when you are picking them in the draft, so he has been in a good situation here but he showed quick,” Jones said postgame on Sunday. “He has had a lot of work, but he deserves it. He’s just what we see. He’s made big plays for us so far this year. He’ll make big plays in my mind the rest of his career.”
The 24-year-old began his career as a fill-in at nickel cornerback for an injured Jourdan Lewis last season, and he hauled in five interceptions as a rookie in 2022, tied for the fifth-most in the entire NFL. Despite switching positions in 2023 to outside cornerback, Bland has played even better. He is actually playing like the best cornerback in the NFL right now. His 10.7 passer rating allowed in coverage is the lowest in the NFL among players with 40 or more targets thrown their way this season. The next closest player is Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Darious Williams, whose 41.9 passer rating is over 30 points higher. Bland’s teammate and 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore ranks third in the league with 45.1 passer rating on the opposite of the formation at age 33.
“That’s why I said he’s that guy,” Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott said postgame when asked about Bland’s success moving from being a nickel [inside] corner as a rookie in 2022 to being a boundary [outside] corner in 2023. “Not a lot of guys are able to move positions like that and make the impact that he’s been able to make. Obviously when you lose a guy like Trevon [Diggs], people wonder. When a guy like that steps in and says ‘I’m here and I’m here to play’, that’s important. That’s huge. He’s a mature man that prepares the right way. He does everything throughout the week.
“He’s not a big rah rah [guy] and doesn’t even really talk much to be honest with you. He does it within his play on the field, does it in practice. He made some plays on me from Day 1 when he showed up that said this guy knows what he is looking at, knows what he is doing and is confident in himself. He trusts breaking at the right time and making the right plays. He is only going to get better because he’s young and approaches the game the right way. He is only going to see more things that he is confident in jumping. He has another guy on the other side like Stephon to teach him. He has been impressive. This is only the beginning.”
Bland’s three pick-sixes are tied for the most in any team’s first seven games in NFL history. He now also has more pick-sixes this season than Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders had in his five seasons (1995-1999) with the Cowboys (two). During Sanders’ lone NFL Defensive Player of the Year campaign in 1994 with the San Francisco 49ers, he totaled three interception-return touchdowns in 14 games played. Bland’s nine interceptions lead the NFL since his debut in 2022, four of which have come in 2023. His four interceptions are the second-most in the league this season behind Ravens defensive back Geno Stone’s five.
“He’s super instinctive and has great ball skills,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said postgame. “He’s so consistent for a young player. Not only what he’s done this year but also last year. He’s going to play a long time.”