The biggest addition to the New England Patriots defense this year, outside of Richard Seymour perhaps from injury, has been rookie LB Jerod Mayo. For those of you who participated in the first ever BehindtheSteelCurtain Mock Draft, you may remember that I was extremely high on Mayo. I had him going #8 to Baltimore in our little draft. Turns out the Ravens wisely traded out of the #8 hole with Jacksonville, only to get their guy later in the first round with Joe Flacco. New England was also able to trade down out of #7 to the #10 hole. They got some extra picks and still got their guy, even though most people had him projected about 8-12 spots lower than that. I do bring that up proudly because I definitely did see something out of Mayo when I watched him in college that couldn't quite be measured by a 40 time. But I'm happy to admit that not 2 sentences into my selection, I claimed I'm not sold on Matt Ryan! Whoops.
Anyway, from all accounts, Mayo has lived up to his billing. I could dig up numerous articles, but I'm hoping some Pats fans will just jump in and fill in the gaps when I say that guys like Tedy Bruschi have been very impressed with Mayo's work ethic and hunger to learn everything he can while his more veteran teammates are still out there succeeding largely on intelligence and experience.
But forget the intangibles, Mayo's productivity has spoken for itself. Mayo is 6th in the league in total tackles (89), 3rd in the league in solo tackles (70), and 1st in the league by a wide margin amongst rookies in total and solo tackles. You can basically engrave his name on the Defensive Rookie Of The Year award right now.
So what can we expect from him Sunday? Well, I unfortunately (or fortunately, considering it's the Pats) have not seen him play too much this year. Just on two occassions, so I'm not overly familiar with how he's deployed. From what I can surmise though, Mayo's done exactly what's been asked of him, which is to A) make it tough to run (Pats are 13th vs rush) and take away some of the easy stuff in the passing game over the middle. Big plays are actually where to find success against New England. Their 29 plays of 20+ yards in the passing game, and 9 plays of 40+ yards rank near the bottom 1/3 and the bottom 1/8 of the league respectively.
I'm concerned about Mewelde Moore making much happen in the passing game. I'm concerned about Heath Miller picking up valuable extra yards over the middle. I'm worried about Hines owning the middle of the field like he so often does. And I'm worried about any of our running backs picking up good angles outside the tackle. All that could lead for a tough day for our offense. Could is the operative word. We all know it takes more than 1 guy to succeed on either side of the ball. As good as Jerod Mayo has been, we still have some legitimate matchup advantages on offense if we simply call a good game and keep the Patriots from teeing off on our offensive line with blitz packages that are not at all diffused or toned down by a well called offensive game plan. And of course, good play up front.
It's going to be a good one!