From question to record setter, Dallas Cowboys’ DaRon Bland aims to make Pick-6 history

Erik Verduzco/AP
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Believe it or not, there was once some concern about the Dallas Cowboys defense when All-Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs suffered a season-ending torn ACL in practice before their Week 3 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.

DaRon Bland had shown flashes as a rookie and proved to be solid as a nickel cornerback.

But how much would the drop off from Diggs and his playmaking skills impact the defense and possibly the season?

At least, those were the questions outside the Cowboys locker room.

Anyone who has watched Bland, a rookie fifth-round pick in 2022, had no worries about his ability to hold up.

But no one couldn’t have predicted his record-setting play that has him on the brink of history heading into Thursday’s game against the Washington Commanders.

A catch, roll and a dart to the end zone in the Cowboys 33-10 victory against the Carolina Panthers has put Bland in some rarefied air.

When he undercut a Panthers receiver to jump a pass Bryce Young with a diving interception and then ran 30 yards into the end zone, Bland set a Cowboys record with his fourth Pick-Six of the season.

It also tied him for the most interceptions returned for a touchdown in a single season in NFL history. He joins Philadelphia Eagles’ Eric Allen (1993), Kansas City Chiefs’ Jim Kearney (1972), and Houston Oilers’ Ken Houston (1971) with four.

“Just a remarkable young player,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I think you just watch the way he plays, and it’s a great example of the details that he plays with, especially for a young corner. The shallow crossing route kind of drifted upfield a little bit. He cuts under it and takes a perfect angle and makes a huge play. I just can’t say enough about him. He’s done it since the first day. He’s played so well last year for us, and he’s having an incredible season.”

Bland is not done.

This is just the beginning for him as a starter and a record setter.

His six interceptions are tied for most in the NFL and he is looking to stand alone in the history book.

It could as soon as Thanksgiving Day against Commanders quarterback Sam Howell, who is coming off a three-interception performance in Sunday’s 31-19 loss to the New York Giants.

“It just makes another goal to break it,” Bland said. “I think it was when I touched the end zone, it was like, ‘Wow, I just did it. I tied the record.’ I’m level-headed now and I want to go break it. ...

“It wasn’t really about the record. It’s really about being in the history books, being remembered.”

If truth be told, Bland predicted he would get the record-tying interception before the Panthers game and told quarterback Dak Prescott as much.

He then made a point to remind Prescott afterwards.

“I’m always communicating with the guys, and I hadn’t watched these guys much on TV or checked out their offense. I asked was he going to get an opportunity at one?,” Prescott recalled. “He told me he was going to get one. Just laughing in the locker room post game, he said, ‘I told you I was going to get one.”

“I said, ‘I didn’t know you were going to score.’

His expectation, his standards. He said, ‘you know that comes with it’.”

Picking the ball off is just what Bland does with his great recovery speed, ball skills and anticipation. When the ball is in the air, he believes he’s the target.

“It goes back to high school and playing receiver, always having the ball in my hands,” he said. “That’s a play I can make any other day.”

Bland led the Cowboys and was second in the NFL with five interceptions as a rookie.

His 11 interceptions since 2021 are the most in the league.

But what sets him apart is his knack for the pick-six.

Blands four touchdowns are more than many notable big-time receivers including Jaylen Waddle of the Miami Dolphins, Amari Cooper of the Cleveland Brownsn, Odell Beckham Jr of the Baltimore Ravens, D.K. Metcalf of the Seattle Seahawks, Deebo Samuel of the San Francisco 49ers and Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams.

“He is scoring touchdowns, and at that point, yeah, he is a part of the offense when he is getting into the end zone as much as he is,” Prescott said. “That’s what he believes in. Ball guy. You put it near him, inaccurate with a throw, trust me, I’ve known it from the time that he showed up, just practicing against the guy. He is a big-time playmaker, and he is a doing a hell of a job.”

And not only is Bland on the brink of history, but he is getting a ground swell of consideration for not only making first-team All-Pro but NFL Defensive of Player of the Year honors.

McCarthy was the coach in Green Bay when Hall of Famer Charles Woodson led the NFL with three pick-6s and nine interceptions to power his run to the 2009 DPOY award.

He said Bland compares favorably to Woodson because they are good at jumping the cross routes, they study film and have natural instincts and awareness.

“Charles was obviously a complete player,” McCarthy said. “A lot like DaRon Bland, the ball skills. When they got the ball in their hands, they were dynamic in putting it in the end zone.”