FRISCO, Texas (AP) — The Dallas Cowboys carried Super Bowl expectations into the season and a had a defense playing on that lofty level when star cornerback Trevon Diggs tore the ACL in his left knee in practice this week.
Those expectation haven’t changed. The Cowboys believe they have the depth to overcome the loss of the 2021 All-Pro who is tied for the NFL lead with 18 interceptions since entering the league three years ago.
Dallas (2-0) visits Arizona (0-2) on Sunday, and the FanDuel SportsBook betting line of Cowboys by 12 1/2 hasn’t changed much, if at all.
“Obviously you feel sick about him, and it’s definitely a punch in the gut for our football team,” coach Mike McCarthy said Friday, the day after the injury. “But this is an opportunity for our defensive depth to stand up and continue to move forward.”
The day after his 25th birthday, Diggs sustained the season-ending injury in a one-on-one drill in red-zone work. McCarthy said Diggs came down on a receiver’s foot when both players were going for the ball.
“It’s something that could happen anywhere,” McCarthy said. “This was not a drill issue at all, by no means.”
Dallas was just the fifth team in the Super Bowl era to score at least 70 points and allow 10 or fewer in the first two games, after beating both New York teams by a combined score of 70-10.
The Cowboys shut out the Giants 40-0 in the opener, and with another shutout would set the NFL record for fewest points allowed through three games. Green Bay allowed 13 in 2001.
They’ll have to do it without a two-time Pro Bowler who tied the franchise record with 11 interceptions in 2021. He had his first of this season against the Jets last week. His jarring blindside hit in the opener on Giants running back Saquon Barkley led to an interception return for a touchdown by DaRon Bland.
Bland’s name comes up quickly on the conversation of replacing Diggs. The second-year man is likely to start opposite offseason free agent pickup Stephon Gilmore. Bland played in the slot while Diggs and Gilmore handled the outside the first two weeks.
“It’s still a game I’ve always been playing,” said Bland, who led the Cowboys with five interceptions as a rookie. “I’ve been playing on his side mostly for this past year. So moving back to the outside would be good. I’ve just to got keep my head straight.”
Jourdan Lewis, who made his season debut with 10 snaps last week after missing most of 2022 with a broken foot, could be the first option in the slot.
Owner and general manager Jerry Jones, appearing on his radio show Friday, didn’t seem too keen on the idea of help from outside the organization, at least not right now.
While the sample size was small, Diggs had an infinitesimal 1.0 passer rating against, best in the NFL, through two weeks.
“You can’t do that,” Jones said. “That’s just not real. That’s like saying, ‘I want to be Tom Cruise.’ You don’t replace these irreplaceable players.”
Still, Jones is confident the Cowboys can offset the loss of Diggs. Jones suggested Dallas would be at less risk of giving up big plays since Diggs has a gambling style that helps create turnovers.
“That’s what makes him such a great player,” Jones said. “But Bland and people we have come in here may not have as much of a concern about the bad play. So we could have a plus here. Not a real plus, but we could mitigate how bad this loss is.”
It’s the third time in four seasons the Cowboys have lost a cornerstone player to a long-term injury early. Quarterback Dak Prescott broke his ankle in Week 5 in 2020, when Dallas missed the playoffs.
Last season, left tackle Tyron Smith tore a hamstring during training camp and didn’t play until December. The Cowboys made the playoffs with a second consecutive 12-win season, losing in the divisional round to San Francisco after a wild-card loss to the 49ers a year earlier.
“It’s part of the adversity to win a championship,” McCarthy said. “The focal point for us is really on Trevon, the person, because he needs our love and support. This is part of the NFL. It’s just unfortunate.”
It’s the third notable injury in practice for Dallas. Left guard Tyler Smith missed the first two games after straining a hamstring before the opener. He is expected to make his season debut against the Cardinals.
Center Tyler Biadasz injured a hamstring in the same practice in which Diggs went down. Biadasz didn’t practice Friday and is listed as questionable.
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