The Dallas Cowboys have a monumental task in front of them this Sunday when they take on the San Francisco 49ers. This will also be a challenge for 49ers’ quarterback Brock Purdy going up against a good Cowboys defense in his second playoff start.
Dallas will need to be on their game as far as their secondary is concerned because if Purdy can carve up their pass defense, running back Christian McCaffrey could have a field day with attention shifting to the pass.
ESPN staff writer, Matt Bowen, sees rookie cornerback DaRon Bland, not two-time Pro Bowler Trevon Diggs, as an x-factor in the Cowboys’ bid for a road upset.
“With Bland’s inside/outside flexibility, the Cowboys can disguise coverage and cater to his matchup traits. The rookie logged five interceptions and seven pass breakups this season, and he has the lower-body agility to stick with the 49ers’ Aiyuk.”
Bland’s rise to being a major component of the Cowboys’ defense is quite impressive. He didn’t log a defensive snap in the first three games. However, he got his first significant playing time in Week 4 versus the Washington Commanders by playing 59 snaps and he hauled in his first career interception.
The two games that followed saw Bland used only on special teams, but then he saw an increase in snaps due to veteran cornerback Jourdan Lewis going down for the season with a foot injury. Bland would start eight of the Cowboys’ final 10 games, and he made them all count.
Bland’s best stretch of the season was from Week 13 through Week 16. Bland logged four more interceptions, five pass breakups, and 25 tackles over that span. Bland gained the trust of Cowboys’ defensive coordinator Dan Quinn so much that he logged no less than 86% of the team’s defensive snaps in six of the final seven regular season games.
Pre-MNF, PFF's highest-graded defender in Week 13 is none other than #Cowboys rookie CB DaRon Bland with an outstanding 94.3 mark.— John Owning (@JohnOwning) December 5, 2022
He was allowed 2 receptions from 7 targets for just 9 yards while generating two INTs, a PBU and a coverage stop. pic.twitter.com/Syk82ptmHQ
That belief in Bland guided him to end up with 54 tackles, finishing second in the NFL with five interceptions (led the Cowboys), and registering seven pass breakups, which was second on the team to Diggs. Considering Bland was a fifth-round pick back in April, what he accomplished in 2022 can’t be denied.
After one of Bland’s best performances of the season against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 16, in which he grabbed his fifth interception, Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy raved about the rookie and his flexibility.
“I think what DaRon Bland has done as a rookie is, I’m trying to think back through my time to have that kind of impact,” McCarthy said. “You know never playing inside, get your start inside as nickel and then moving back outside. I can’t say enough about our young guys.”
Bland made his playoff debut against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week and was solid with seven tackles despite being beaten by Julio Jones for a score. The Cowboys will be looking for an even better outing from Bland on Sunday if they want to advance to the NFC Championship Game.
Feature image via Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports