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Starting rookie inside linebacker Tae Crowder is headed to injured reserve. How will the New York Giants replace him moving forward?

Ryan Honey

Tae Crowder proved his worth within the New York Giants defense in the midst of Sunday’s win over Washington. The 2020 NFL Draft’s “Mr. Irrelevant” showed his relevancy, to say the least, scooping a late Washington fumble and scoring the go-ahead touchdown in Big Blue’s eventual 20-19 victory.

But like many others who’ve possessed the privilege of playing in the NFL, Crowder only experienced a brief period of time in the limelight. On Tuesday, approximately 48 hours after the biggest play of his young career thus far, Crowder found himself on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Due to league rules, Tae will miss at least the Week 7, 8, and 9 matchups against the Eagles, Buccaneers, and Washington, respectively.

It’s a tough blow for the Giants defense, a unit that must continue to look through the windshield as a tough division opponent in Philly approaches. The preparation needs to be sharp despite the short week, and within that preparation comes the crucial question: How will Big Blue ultimately replace the efforts of Crowder?

Well, it’s safe to say coordinator Patrick Graham‘s defense will utilize a scheme-based approach to do so, something it’s done for a multitude of position groups already in 2020. That’s why you see edge rusher Markus Golden earning significant reps against the Cowboys in Week 5 but not so much this past Sunday against Washington.

A number of guys will thus see time amid Crowder’s absence, and there’s a chance David Mayo becomes the lead guy in the rotation of bodies.

After tearing his meniscus in August, Mayo found himself on injured reserve for the first five games of the regular season, a time period in which the Giants fielded multiple guys at his inside linebacker spot alongside defensive captain Blake Martinez. Many believed he could be the clear-cut starter after the Giants provided him with a contract extension in the offseason, but the injury ruined that. Not to mention, his mere 11 defensive reps against Washington have likely caused fans to question the coaching staff’s confidence in him.

But don’t forget, Mayo was activated just a few days before the win over the Football Team, so the Giants may have wished to ease him onto the field instead of overwhelm him with a noteworthy number of reps right off the bat. With that said, the Giants could indeed expand his overall responsibility in his second game back given the experience and talent advantage he carries over the alternate depth-chart options.

Mayo started 13 games for the Giants last year, finishing with 82 total tackles (second on the team) and a 10.9% missed tackle rate. He’s proven to be successful when it comes to locating and bringing down the ball carrier, so his and Martinez’s combined efforts could be extremely effective on run downs. The latter leads the team with a whopping 64 total tackles through six games (10.67 tackles per game).

The Giants additionally employ Devante Downs on the roster, but it’s unclear if he’ll even be the second choice in regard to replacing Crowder. Downs started the Week 1, 3, and 4 defeats for the Giants but hasn’t found himself in the starting lineup in each of the last pair of meetings (Week 5 vs. Dallas, Week 6 vs. Washington). Not to mention, his playing time significantly decreased after his start against the 49ers in Week 3.

Downs was on the field for 55 defensive snaps in that game but has combined for just six reps on that side of the ball in the most recent trio of matchups, mainly taking on a special teams role instead.

The Giants initially believed they employed a reliable player in Downs who could be a productive segment of this defense. Nonetheless, he hasn’t impressed whatsoever, notching just four solo tackles (tied for 98th among the linebackers measured on Pro Football Focus) along with a poor 40.0 PFF grade. Thus, unless a specific gameplan truly calls for it, don’t expect the Giants to play Downs the most in Crowder’s absence.

Then, there’s the pair of rookies in Cam Brown and Carter Coughlin.

Brown is more likely to receive reps in Crowder’s spot due to his experience as more of an off-ball linebacker. Coughlin, on the other hand, entered the NFL having been more of an edge rusher at the collegiate level.

Nonetheless, the Giants gained a little confidence in either on Sunday. Brown notched five defensive reps while Coughlin notched three — the first time either earned in-game defensive snaps in their respective NFL careers.

Coughlin should be able to transfer his athleticism to the inside linebacker spot, but Brown may be a more reliable option at the moment given his experience in this exact role. But again, their overall playing time might be a scheme-based decision from Graham.

There’s also the chance the Giants utilize Jabrill Peppers in the box more as well. Peppers is experienced within the role, and the Giants employ a number of defensive backs who they could keep in the secondary while the primary strong safety is up near the line of scrimmage.

With James Bradberry and Ryan Lewis remaining at the two corner spots, the Giants could field Julian Love and Logan Ryan at safety. The former’s playing time enhanced to 63 defensive snaps for Week 6 in comparison to Week 5 when he wasn’t on the field for a single defensive rep.

This could be a risky move though, considering Peppers would be residing in a more physical position after suffering a low ankle sprain not too long ago (he missed the Week 4 matchup against the Rams and was limited the following week against the Cowboys).

Sure, it’s a bummer what happened to Crowder, especially after what had occurred late in the Washington matchup. But the Giants possess the necessary reinforcements to replace him for the time being. It’ll just be a matter of how Graham and head coach Joe Judge perceive and thus go about the situation.

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