When you are a team on the hunt for a championship, you are more than likely loaded with bonafide-superstars. You have the highlight-reel creators and guys who win you fantasy matchups and make ESPN's Top Ten plays.
But when a team is in contention for the big dance, they also have once under-the-radar players who make the right plays at the must crucial times to save the game. We know who Micah Parsons is. We know that DeMarcus Lawrence, Malik Hooker, and Damone Clark, among others, will dominate on a weekly basis. But one player has stepped up this year, igniting this defense, more so than anyone else.
That player is cornerback DaRon Bland. A fifth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft out of Fresno State, Bland has taken Dallas' defense to another level this year. When Dallas lost cornerback Trevon Diggs for the season due to injury early in the season, a major hole in production needed to be replaced.
From the very first week Bland has gotten a chance to start, he has delivered. When he got the starting nod for the first time against Arizona in a week three loss, you knew it would not take long for Bland to turn it on.
It actually only took Bland until the very next week to get back to his ball-hawk ways of 2022, as he picked off two of Mac Jones' passes in a lopsided win. One of those interceptions was even returned for a touchdown.
How DaRon Bland can spearhead a deep Cowboys playoff run
Bland has remained consistent in coverage as the year has went on and the numbers support that. Bland has either batted down or intercepted a pass in every single game this season since he was named a starter. He has made it hard for opposing receivers to get going and that has forced other teams to try and establish the run-game which usually results in being disrupted by the Cowboys' front line.
Therefore, seemingly DaRon Bland has been the defense's motor this season. As a player, is he on the Trevon Diggs level? Most would say no. But, has he stepped up in the best way possible and given Dallas a lift in Diggs' absence? Everyone would say yes.
All of Bland's coaches and teammates have also noticed his impact on the team and praised his play. So much praise to even get a Defensive player of the year vote from teammate Micah Parsons on his weekly podcast. While a prestigious award like DPOY is more than likely not a possibility for Bland, a well-deserved Pro Bowl and All-Pro nod seems very likely.
Oftentimes praise from the guys around you means more to a player and boosts their confidence more than increased Madden video game ratings can ever do.
On the field, what DaRon Bland brings to the defense more than anything else from a skill perspective, is his toughness. The toughness he plays takes the defense to new heights in most weeks. His ball-skills, good size (long-armed as well) and his ability to fight hard to get in the best position to cover opposing wide receivers, are his strengths.
When you watch Bland play you can tell he is a very technical coverage corner and as it looks right now, when Diggs does return to the team, this duo can become one of the best in all of football. No quarterback is going to want to have to choose who to throw towards between the two studs.
Bland's skills as a corner have pushed him to have a record-breaking 2023 campaign. By the numbers, Bland has the most pick-sixes in a single season in NFL history. It took him one game to break the record after he tied it in Week 11 against the Panthers.
Every one of his interception returns this year have been eye-popping, including his most recent, during last Sunday's rout over Carolina. He jumped a Jonathan Mingo crossing route and snagged the ball from the 30-yard line and summersaulted on his way to the end-zone before being swarmed by his fellow defenseman.
Plays like this are what make Bland who he is. He makes the timely plays and every-team needs a guy like that. Every true football fan knows that as it looks now, record aside, the Cowboys have a team worthy of competing for a Super Bowl berth. They are solid on both sides but they just have to put it together when it counts.
When history shows that you cannot show up in crucial moments, what can finally get you over the hump and help you re-write history? Making the big plays when you need them the most. Maybe a bit of luck from the football Gods could help too.
Bland can do that for this Cowboys team and he could be a key for them as the weeks go on. He can very well be the player who gets the game-changing interception or pass break-up to put Dallas in position to win, when it matters. No. 26 just might be the reason Dallas re-writes history.