Minus Mayo, Patriots' defense will have more holes
A pessimist believes that regardless of how bad thing are, they can
always be worse.
Unfortunately for a Patriots defense that has struggled mightily
through the first four games of 2011, a pessimistic view might also be
the most realistic snapshot of the current state of affairs.
In the midst of giving up 500-plus yards to the Raiders in Sunday's
31-19 win at Oakland, Patriots All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo limped off with a
knee injury. The defensive co-captain needed a cart to take him to the
O.co Coliseum locker room for halftime and did not return.
It didn't take long for multiple published reports to surface
indicating that Mayo could miss a month of action to the injury. Though
it's clearly not a season-ending type issue, it's a major concern for a
defense that's very much been a work in progress through the first four
weeks in a new 4-3 scheme and is on the verge of a meeting with the
Jets to begin what was seen as the tough middle portion of its schedule.
Mayo has been good but not great so far playing the Will spot in Bill
Belichick's new-look front. He led the team with 25 tackles through
three weeks of action, having also notched a forced fumble.
Maybe most importantly, though, is the fact that the No. 10 overall
pick is New England's primary play-caller and leader in the middle of
the defense. He's a noted student of the game and film rat, the closest
thing the Patriots have to an extension of Belichick on the field.
In the second half of last week's win over the Raiders, Gary Guyton saw
most of the action in Mayo's stead. Belichick, at list for a short span
of action, seemed happy with how his defense the absence of its leader.
"We had our moments. There were some good things (and) there were some
other things we need to do a better job of," Belichick said after
reviewing film of the action. "Gary basically replaced Jerod in our
regular defense and then we had some other guys in sub defenses. So we
had some different packages in there, it wasn't a Ferris wheel of guys.
There was actually a plan there, believe it or not."
Guyton, who entered the league as an undrafted player the same year
that Mayo was New England's top pick, has plenty of experience doing a
variety of jobs for the Patriots D.
"Gary and Jerod
came in together. They're very close, personally and (they) play well
next to each other. They have great communication and both guys kind of
can do what the other one does," Belichick added. "They flip
assignments and positions regularly on the defense just to change up
the looks, just to have a different guy doing it -- within the
structure of the defense, having different guys doing it to make the
offense read it differently and so forth. I think Gary has good
experience and he knows all the positions -- any inside linebacker part
of the defense, regardless of what our front is and so forth, he's
pretty adept and he's a real sharp guy.
we'll see what the game plan is going forward here. But certainly Gary
has had a big role in our defense over the last three years and I'm
sure he'll continue to. He's a key guy for us and he's done a good job.
He's done various things: played in sub defenses, played in regular
defenses, played our middle linebacker spot, played our other inside
linebacker spot, what we'll call the Will. He's done a lot of things."
Another option to help fill in for Mayo, is another former undrafted
player. Over his year-plus in New England Dane Fletcher has made the
transition from college defensive end at Montana State to NFL inside
linebacker. He's been a rotational this season and could see his role
expand in the month-plus that Mayo is expected to miss.
"I think Dane has taken a big jump from where he was last year,"
Belichick said. "Last year, he came in really as a converted defensive
lineman. (He) made an impact for us in the kicking game. At other
points in the year, (he) did some things situationally on defense. This
year, he came in and played inside linebacker right from the beginning
of the year. He's way ahead of where he was last year. There's just
really no comparison. He got a good year of experience and he
definitely built on that. He's a smart guy, works hard, he's in good
condition, he's a good athlete, runs well (and) he's physical.
"We have a lot of confidence in Dane. I'm sure whatever we ask him to
do, he'll work hard to do it. I have no doubt about that."
So while there's no doubt the Patriots will miss their All-Pro
linebacker and maybe best overall defensive player, Belichick seems
confident the team has the bodies in place to gets past this bump in
the team's defensive road.
Tom Brady threw two touchdowns against Oakland to move past Joe Montana
(273) and tie Vinny Testaverde (275) for eighth place on the NFL's
all-time list. Johnny Unitas is seventh with 290 touchdown passes.
Brady also now has 114 career wins, three behind Montana.
Brady threw for a season-low 226 yards in
Sunday's win at
Oakland. After opening the season setting a record for the most passing
yards in any three-game stretch in NFL history, Brady fell just 4 yards
shy of Kurt Warner's record (1,557) for most yards in the first four
games of a season.
--RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the
second quarter, his 21st career TD run. He is now tied with Laurence Maroney and Antowain Smith for eighth place in franchise history. Since
the beginning of the 2010 season, Green-Ellis has 16 touchdown runs,
which ranks second in the NFL to Houston's Arian Foster.
Green-Ellis had a season-high 75 yards on 16
carries in Oakland,
including a 1-yard touchdown. Green-Ellis leads New England through
four games with 197 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns.
--WR Wes Welker had 158 receiving yards, giving him 616 yards for the
season, which puts him on pace for 2,464 yards. The NFL record for most
yards gained in a season is 1,848 by Jerry Rice in 1995. The Patriots'
team record is 1,493 yards by Randy Moss in 2007. Welker's career high
is 1,348 yards in 2009.
Welker had another big day in beating
the Raiders, notching
games highs with nine catches for 158 yards (17.6-yard average) and a
touchdown. Through four games Welker leads the NFL on a record pace
with 40 catches for 616 yards (15.4 avg.) with five touchdowns.
--RB Stevan Ridley, a third-round pick out of LSU, saw his most
significant snaps of his young career and responded with 97 yards on 10
carries against the Raiders, including a 33-yard touchdown. Ridley has
18 carries for 148 yards on the season for an impressive 8.2-yard
--TE Rob Gronkowski caught just one pass
for 15 yards in Oakland as he found the coverage from the Raiders
tighter than it had been through the first three weeks. As the Patriots
only healthy tight end, the second-year starter also played every
offensive snap in the game.
--WR Chad Ochocinco
continues to be slow to get acclimated to the New England offense,
sharing third-receiver reps with Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater in
Oakland. Ochocinco did catch two passes for 26 yards in the win, the
only player for New England other than Welker to record multiple
--RB Danny Woodhead limped off with
what appeared to be an ankle injury against the Raiders, finishing with
just two carries for 13 yards.
--S Patrick Chung
notched his first interception of the season as he returned to the
lineup after missing a game with a thumb injury. Chung, wearing a cast
on his right hand/wrist, held on when Jason Campbell inexplicably threw
the ball right to him in the end zone.
Wilfork notched his second interception of the season, and his career,
when he slipped between Jason Campbell and Darren McFadden in Oakland.
Wilfork's pair of interceptions ranks second on New England, trailing
only cornerback Kyle Arrington.
--WR Deion Branch
has been very quiet of late. The former Super Bowl MVP was shut out in
Week 3 in Buffalo and barely avoided going catch-less on Sunday with
just a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Jerod Mayo left Sunday's game with a reported MCL sprain and could miss
at least a month, according to published reports.
--DT Kyle Love left midway through Sunday's game with a knee injury but
ultimately returned and reported no lingering pain afterward.
--LB Rob Ninkovich left the game with a right leg injury that has
plagued him for a while. He did not return, but afterward said he was
simply suffering from soreness.
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