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ILB Tae Crowder: The Good, the Great and the Ugly

Tae Crowder, last year's Mr. Irrelevant, proved to be more relevant than people initially gave him credit for. Nick Falato breaks down the good, the great and ugly in Crowder's game.

The Giants had enough of the Alec Ogletree’s of the world. One of the early mistakes of the Dave Gettleman era proved to be a costly one, as the middle of the Giants defense was unreliable, rarely in position, and zapped of his once profound athletic abilities.

The Giants, under new head coach Joe Judge, upgraded the linebacker position by adding Blake Martinez in the 2020 free agent cycle.

New York didn’t stop with just Martinez. They retained David Mayo (who has since been released), and they took four separate late-round fliers on linebacking types of players.

First, they selected Cam Brown out of Penn State and then Carter Coughlin out of Minnesota, both of whom are now operating in more of an EDGE role, albeit there’s talk that Coughlin could convert to off-ball.

Then they targeted T.J. Brunson out of South Carolina, a player that Gettleman reportedly loved at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. When it came to the last pick of the draft, the Giants selected Tae Crowder out of Georgia as "Mr. Irrelevant."

However, he was all but irrelevant in the 2020 season for the Giants. Crowder played 403 snaps, earning 40 tackles, six pressures, a sack, and 15 STOPS. He helped the Giants win their Week 6 matchup against Washington by recording eight tackles and returning a fumble for a touchdown.

He suffered a hamstring strain during that game but returned for the Seattle road victory, where he had an important sack of Russell Wilson.

His first year had its ups and downs, but he vastly outplayed his draft spot. Being the very last pick in the draft yet contributing significantly to the defense isn’t something that happens too frequently in the modern NFL.

He’s not a lock to start this season; the Giants brought in veteran linebacker Reggie Ragland who is superior to Crowder in terms of filling, albeit Crowder is good in this area.

However, Crowder did miss too many tackles in 2020. His 16.1% missed tackle rate has to improve from last season. He was better down the stretch of the year and had a solid Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys. Still, the Giants are undoubtedly interested in upgrading the position, which is why they had reported interest in Jamin Davis before the Washington Football Team drafted him.

Let’s see why Crowder earns snaps in Patrick Graham’s defense in this edition of the Good, the Great, and the Ugly.

(Tae Crowder is No. 48)

The Good: Solid with Run Fits

The Giants ran a lot of 3-3-5 in 2020, but the 3-4 and the 2-4-5 were also common defensive personnel packages employed by Graham. This is where Crowder found a home for most of 2020, next to Martinez, after taking the job from Mayo and Devante Downs.

Crowder does a very good job coming downhill and reading his keys to attack violently, which we see against Washington above. New York is in 3-3-5, but instead of two EDGEs as the other two “linebackers” next to Martinez, Crowder is over the top of tight end Logan Thomas (No. 82).

The tight end kicks to be the lead blocker for Antonio Gibson (No. 24), and Crowder follows Thomas to the A-Gap to meet Gibson at the line of scrimmage for a net gain of zero.

There’s a minor adjustment by Crowder that I love right as he’s going into the tackle--it’s a slight shimmy to line up the shot perfectly. Crowder does well targeting his assignments when the traffic is lighter, like in this play.

Crowder reads the backside guard pull here and scrapes over the top of a double-team block on Dexter Lawrence (No. 97). The ability for Lawrence to anchor down and not allow the ACE to climb is perfect.

The linebacker sees the blocks materialize, gets into the C-Gap before the receivers can locate him, and the presence of Lawrence doesn’t allow the ACE to climb. Good job by the Giants defense in general, but an excellent read by Crowder to fill in a quick manner to beat the blockers and execute his run fit.

This is some more Lawrence love on this stretch zone, but Crowder does a great job not over pursuing the rush that is to the opposite side of his position. Martinez fills quickly and forces a cutback from the running back.

Lawrence locks out the tackle and is driving him in the direction of the play; this creates a cutback lane off the outside portion of Lawrence, which is quickly eliminated by Crowder’s patience and ability to be disciplined enough not to overlook the cutback lane. Crowder also uses really good timing to split the two blockers who were climbing.

On this pitch play, Crowder moves to the flowing A-Gap and avoids the blockers attempting to eliminate the most dangerous men on their climbs to the second level.

He uses really good pacing and sees the wide-open hole between Dalvin Tomlinson (94) and Kyler Fackrell (No. 51). He puts himself into the gap and blows the play up, resulting in a poor rushing attempt from the Washington Football Team.

We see Crowder work off the backside of Lawrence on this play and attempt to fill the C-Gap quickly. The tight end is a bit late to react to the penetrating Crowder, but he’s able to get an inside shoulder on the player; it doesn’t deter the determined path of Crowder, who absorbs the contact and locates Ezekiel Elliot (No. 21) for a loss.

The quickness to shoot, the awareness of the blocks, and the ability to find the path of least resistance is a trait that Crowder surprisingly showed to a substantial degree in 2020.

It wasn’t always perfect, but there were enough examples on tape to get excited about.

The Great: Patience/Eyes

These work hand in hand with the good of filling one’s responsibilities in the run game, but it’s just not commonplace with 7th round rookies.

The tight end gets a free release to locate Crowder at the second level, but the young linebacker sees the double pulling linemen and the cut blocks from the vacated spots that indicate a run outside towards the boundary.

Crowder is able to get outside, which entices the tight end to locate the weak side linebacker. Crowder uses great attacking awareness as he avoids the lead blocker; this allows Logan Ryan (No. 23) to create the narrow rushing lane and box Chase Edmunds (No. 29) inside--good force by Ryan.

Carter Coughlin also does a solid job getting just enough of the pulling linemen to allow Crowder to fill and make the tackle. If Crowder runs into this situation without patience, then he could have easily been picked up or left himself susceptible to being evaded. His ability to stay square and attack with excellent timing is vital here.

This play’s lack of success for the offense is a product of a tight end left on Leonard Williams (No. 99), but I love how Crowder baits and reads Tony Pollard (No. 20). I often talk about Martinez’s ability to play the Cat & Mouse game with running backs and how it consistently creates doubt in the running back’s path.

Crowder shows this same trait and ability above as he waits for Pollard to commit. Crowder monitors the C-Gap and presses forward but doesn’t commit himself fully because the D-Gap is a realistic option for Pollard.

Williams does enough upfront to force Pollard to attempt an outside run, and that’s when Crowder can commit and attack with aggressiveness to force a poor run from Dallas.

Crowder gets outside quickly off a motion key towards his side while taking advantage of a lineman who trips trying to climb. He scrapes over the top of the blocks and squares Nick Chubb (No. 24) up for a tackle. He could have certainly executed better tackling form against his old college teammate, but he gets the job done.

Crowder read this play well, and the angle to Elliot’s destination is tight off the backside of Austin Johnson (No. 98) and a penetrating Jabaal Sheard (No. 91). Crowder stays square, reads the play, puts himself into position to make the tackle, and then follows through with a solid, low, wrap-up tackle in a big situation.

Crowder is playing force and sets up to the outside of Elliot, forcing a cutback inside to Johnson--good positioning, good discipline, good technique, and good eyes on many of these plays.

The penetration from Sheard was one of the keys that assisted Crowder in the play above. It occupied two blockers and put them into scramble mode, which allowed for Crowder to be unblocked.

The Ugly: Coverage Awareness

We see Crowder as the linebacker on the near hash at the beginning of this play. He was susceptible to high-low route concepts all season, and it hurt the Giants on the few big plays surrendered by this defense. The communication isn’t great between Martinez and Crowder in this play; both react to the shallow routes and lose responsibility for DeAndre Hopkins (No. 10).

As plays become longer, the spatial awareness of Crowder becomes less effective; this isn’t novel to players, but Crowder has to gain depth and eliminate the most dangerous man, especially when clearouts take place and pressure isn’t getting home. Allow the dump-off and rally to happen, but don’t allow these explosive chunk types of plays.

Crowder is to the boundary as the linebacker at the top of your screen. They run a fast three in Jarvis Landry (No. 80) to the flats to distract while running a vertical from the two and a search type of skinny post from the one.

Crowder is the curl/hook defender here in this two-high defense. It looks like Isaac Yiadom (No. 27) is playing a cut type of technique on what may have been an understood flat route from the two, but that route ends up being a vertical.

However, the presence of Yiadom in the flat should have allowed, if communicated, Crowder to relate to the skinny post in the area between the numbers and the hashes--especially with the quarterback’s eyes going in that direction of progression from the backside one, to the second, and then the third read (the third read being the one who caught the ball).

Here’s what looks like it’s a three-high zone match defense. Crowder is the boundary linebacker, and he doesn’t take the pass off from Blake Martinez on Mark Andrews (No. 89), who runs a deep horizontal cross.

There’s a double clear out to the left side, and there is a flat receiving threat, but Crowder seems unaware of Andrews’ route as he sets up inside. He gains no depth, and Andrews is open for a while before Lamar Jackson (No. 8) delivers him the football in a contested manner. There’s a lack of spatial awareness in Crowder’s game when routes get behind him, and the quarterback has time to throw the football.

This play isn’t behind Crowder, but it still indicates poor judgment as a covering defender. He’s the boundary linebacker against Jared Goff (No. 16), who has limited rushing upside, yet he allows Malcolm Brown (No. 34) to be unattended for far too long while Crowder is chilling by the numbers.

Brown flows laterally and gets hit with a nice back-shoulder completion to pick up a key third-down against the New York Giants. Crowder isn’t overly intuitive on this play, he has one receiving threat in his area, and he’s just a bit too slow to react to Goff’s eyes.

Final Thoughts

The Giants received more than they paid for Crowder in his first year as a professional football player. There are reasons to like Crowder, but he’s not perfect. He needs to clean up some of these awareness issues in coverage if he wants to be on the field more often.

He also has to be a better tackler in space. I think his eyes are underrated, and when he reads offense’s well, he’s got a good trigger to come downhill and make impressive tackles. Crowder could be more consistent, but young players tend to be inconsistent.

He will compete with Ragland for a starting role next to Martinez, and Crowder has a realistic shot at winning that job. 

More "Good, Great & Ugly" Breakdowns

WR Kelvin Benjamin | RB Devontae Booker | RB Corey Clement | OLB Lorenzo Carter | CB Isaac Yiadom | TE Kaden Smith | WR Kenny Golladay | TE Levine Toilolo | Edge Ifeadi Odenigbo | DT Danny Shelton | OL Zach Fulton | CB Adoree' Jackson | TE Evan Engram | S Jabrill Peppers | S Xavier McKinney | ILB Reggie Ragland | WR John Ross | TE Kyle Rudolph | OLB Oshane Ximines | LB Carter Coughlin | IDL Dexter Lawrence II | WR Darius Slayton | LB Cam Brown | DL Leonard Williams | OL Will Hernandez | IDL Austin Johnson | IDL B.J. Hill | WR Sterling Shepard | ILB Blake Martinez | DB Logan Ryan | C Nick Gates | OT Matt Peart | CB Darnay Holmes

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