It was clear early on the Giants needed reinforcements at linebacker following Blake Martinez’s surprise release and rookie Darrian Beavers’ preseason ACL tear. General manager Joe Schoen thus signed veteran Jaylon Smith to the practice squad in September before signing him to the active roster ahead of Week 4 (he played in the last two games — both wins over the Bears and Packers).
Smith was with the Giants for the final four games of last season, having recorded 19 combined tackles and a sack during that span.
The one-time Pro Bowler is picking up where he left off. He’s greatly contributed amid this two-game win streak and could push fellow linebacker Tae Crowder for playing time.
Jaylon Smith’s production
In just two games (one start), Jaylon Smith has portrayed his immense talent against the run. In performances against the Bears and Packers, Smith combined for a dozen tackles with zero missed tackles. This level of production has partly contributed to his impressive 81.9 Pro Football Focus grade.
With Smith not on the active roster the first three weeks, the Giants allowed 138.3 rushing yards per game. This included poor performances against the Panthers (146 yards allowed) and Cowboys (176 yards allowed).
However, over the last two games with Smith on the field, the average rushing yards allowed mark has shrunk to 121.5. Against Green Bay’s Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, one of the league’s better running back duos, the Giants allowed just 94 total rushing yards. Smith was on the field for 65% of the defensive snaps and recorded six combined tackles.
Smith could improve in the passing game, however. He’s been targeted five times through two games and has allowed five completions, 42 yards, and a 101.7 passer rating.
Tae Crowder’s struggles
When the Giants released Martinez right before the start of the season, the assumption was that Crowder would be the team’s top starting inside linebacker. This has remained true, but the 2020 Mr. Irrelevant draft pick saw his playing time diminish against the Packers last Sunday. Crowder played 100% of the defensive snaps in three of the first four games. But against Green Bay, he was on the field for only 79% of the defensive snaps. This is contrary to Smith’s rise in playing time from 50% to 65% of the defensive snaps from Weeks 4-5.
All of this could be chalked up to Smith’s aforementioned production combined with Crowder’s evident on-field struggles.
The third-year player has 28 combined tackles through five games, but he’s also missed six tackles for a 17.6% missed tackle rate. Crowder struggles in coverage, too. He’s allowed a 66.7% completion rate (10 of 15), 108 yards, one touchdown, and a 109.9 passer rating when targeted.
What to expect with Smith and Crowder
The Giants will be playing a run-heavy team in the Ravens this Sunday at home (1:00 p.m. ET). Baltimore is seventh in the NFL with 144.6 rushing yards per game. Star quarterback Lamar Jackson is first at his position and 10th in the league overall with 374 rushing yards (he’s averaging 7.6 yards per carry).
Smith’s success in the ground game the last few weeks should provide him with notable playing time against the run-centric Ravens. Crowder’s inconsistencies could further diminish his overall role.
And if Jaylon Smith continues to impress and prove he’s a good fit in this defense, expect his role to expand as the season progresses.