The Giants must move forward without linebacker Blake Martinez, who suffered a season-ending ACL tear on Sunday.
But to add to the misery, Big Blue will be without star inside linebacker Blake Martinez for the remainder of the year. Martinez overran an Atlanta ball-carrier early in Sunday’s defeat, fell to the ground, and was quickly ruled out. ESPN’s Jordan Raanan subsequently reported Monday morning it’s a torn ACL for Martinez, who led the team in tackles last year.
Giants middle linebacker Blake Martinez has a torn ACL, per sources. He will miss the remainder of the season. Martinez's streak of 140+ tackles in four straight years ends. A huge loss for the Giants. Martinez was the defensive signal-caller and a captain.
— Jordan Raanan (@JordanRaanan) September 27, 2021
Asking a defense that’s already struggled this season (21st in average yards allowed and 16th in average points allowed through three weeks) to replace essentially the quarterback of the unit isn’t simple, but it must be done for the final 14 regular-season games.
How may the Giants address this significant issue?
In-House Starting and Depth Options
The Giants, on the active roster, employ three individuals who could technically be considered for Martinez’s replacement — Reggie Ragland, second-year man Carter Coughlin, and rookie Justin Hilliard.
Just judging by the differing roles, it’s clear Ragland is the favorite to earn the job and play alongside starting inside linebacker Tae Crowder in a 3-4 scheme.
Ragland earned time on 38%, 17%, and 65% of the defensive reps in the first three games, respectively. Martinez’s injury paved the way for Ragland to assume a more notable role against Atlanta, so barring an injury or glaring struggles, expect Reggie to notch starts the rest of the way.
Coughlin and Hilliard will be depth options; the Giants just simply prefer Ragland’s services in Patrick Graham’s system. Coughlin was on the field for only 6%, 3%, and 8% of the defensive snaps in the first three games and has been more of a special teams weapon. Hilliard, on the other hand, has yet to take a regular-season snap at the professional level.
The upside within Coughlin is present though, and an enhanced role could lead to the Giants staff further unlocking his potential.
Trent Harris is also on the practice squad — given Martinez is headed to injured reserve and a spot on the active roster is open, expect the Giants to potentially sign Harris to the 53 or at least elevate him for the upcoming Week 4 matchup against New Orleans.
Harris carries experience working in Graham’s system; the fourth-year player appeared in four games last year with a pair of starts.
The Giants could look to the free-agent market for depth purposes. It’s probably a stretch to say they would be exploring the market for an immediate starter, although anyone they sign could indeed earn a starting job at some point down the road.
Benardrick McKinney is available and so is Avery Williamson, who appeared in seven games (six starts) with the Jets last year.
Although McKinney and Williamson are 28 and 29 years old, respectively, the employment of either would be on a short-term basis. It’s tough to imagine the Giants wanting to keep someone approaching 30 years old on anything longer than a one-year deal, especially considering they’d just be a replacement or depth option amid the absence of Martinez.
Tae Crowder’s Time to Shine
Regardless of who the Giants field or acquire (if they even do sign someone), 2020 seventh-rounder Tae Crowder is now the top inside linebacker on this roster and will basically need to be the quarterback of the defense.
Crowder has been an underrated story — the 2020 Mr. Irrelevant draft pick started six games last year and earned a start in each of the first three games of this current season.
Joe Judge, Patrick Graham, and the rest of this Giants coaching staff believe in Crowder’s ability and certainly did in the absence of Martinez on Sunday. Crowder saw time on 98% of the team’s defensive snaps in the loss to Atlanta.
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