Cowboys believe Stephon Gilmore, Trevon Diggs are primed to become NFL’s best cornerback duo

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ — Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Lamb CeeDee faced the stands at MetLife Stadium for his announcement.

“Hey, I’m going to tell you all now” Lamb said as the Cowboys built a 40-0 lead in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants. “The best duo in the league. Not negotiable.”

Lamb was reacting to the sacked corner that Trevon Diggs had just forced, two quarters after the veteran corner. Stephen Gilmore caught a diving interception Daniel Joneswhich was a quarter after Diggs hit the Giants running back Saquon Barkley so hard that Barkley coughed up a ball that fellow Cowboys defender Darron Bland returned for a touchdown.

Thanks to their secondary, the Cowboys became the first team in 24 years to open their season with a road shutout of more than 40 points. Twenty-seven of those points were from takeout. Lamb’s famous duo of Gilmore and Diggs led the charge.

(Photo illustration by Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)

(Photo illustration by Henry Russell/Yahoo Sports)

The former caught his 30th career interception on Sunday night, fifth most among active NFL players. The latter is two years removed from 11 inches one season, the most the league had seen in 40 years. And yet, interceptions alone don’t fully capture the impact of either player let alone the full danger they pose as a tandem.

The Cowboys had high hopes when they traded for Gilmore in the spring and beyond awarded Diggs a five-year, $97 million extension to start training camp.

Gilmore and Diggs know they’ll have to repeat their impact before they can truly claim any superlatives. But neither do they deny the tempting potential they have. Do they think they are the best duo?

“Are you asking or telling me?” Diggs said from the locker room after the game as he bled out until Monday morning Sunday night. “I think we’ll continue to put it out there every week and let everyone decide.”

Gilmore is raising Diggs’ game

The Cowboys’ defensive front held its own with the league’s best last year already. Only the Philadelphia Eagles had a higher pass rush winning percentage, with both teams rounding out at 52% success. according to ESPN’s database (the Miami Dolphins ranked third at 50%). Micah Parsons’ 30% win percentage ranked first among individual edge rushers, while DeMarcus Lawrence led all edge rushers with a 36% run-and-stop win rate.

The Cowboys forced more fumbles (20) than any team in the league, contributing to their second straight crown, the first time a defense had repeated since the 1972-74 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Dallas’ secondary, meanwhile, was inconsistent. The group had bright spots (Bland’s five rookie interceptions stand out), and to be fair, Diggs’ reduced interceptions stemmed in part from teams running him 22% less than the previous year. But the front office realized in the offseason: Add another top-tier outside cornerback (Bland thrives more in the slot) and quarterbacks will be forced between a rock and a hard place. Dallas traded a fifth-round pick to the Indianapolis Colts for Gilmore, who is 32 but arrived with five Pro Bowl berths and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year honors.

“He just has really good football instincts about him,” Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn told Yahoo Sports during training camp. “He is able to share things with players, coaches. He really has a good routine to practice. All these little details for all this. There’s a reason he’s so productive.”

Gilmore’s play single-handedly improved Dallas’ defense. His mentorship has also affected his position group, starting with Diggs. The younger corner had already appreciated Gilmore’s advice from afar, with Diggs messaging the veteran clip on Instagram for feedback on the productive in-person film sessions they now share. Diggs takes copious notes on Gilmore’s strategies. And the routine that drew Quinn’s praise? Diggs used to wake up around 8 a.m. at training camp, but changed that schedule to 6 a.m. this summer to join Gilmore’s morning practices, he said. He paid close attention to how Gilmore “doesn’t eat crap.”

“He sees me eating gummy snacks and says, ‘Why are you eating that?”’ Diggs said. “Taking me under his wing and showing me how to last in the league this long.”

The short-term futures look bright for Gilmore and Diggs: Pro Football Focus ranked them as the second- and seventh-best cornerbacks in the league in Week 1. Diggs loves the opportunity to continue to “cover everything.” Because while Gilmore has long been one of the best cornerbacks around, Diggs doesn’t think he’s at the top of his game.

“Col, no,” Diggs said when he got his extension. “I just started. Literally My main goal is to stay consistent and continue to build my career.

“Try to build a good resume to where at the end of the day I’m going to go down as one of the best DBs to play the game.”

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