New England Patriots: Brandon Spikes' Presence Helping Defense, Jerod Mayo Shine

Jimmy Kelley@JimmyKelley_Correspondent ISeptember 30, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22:  Brandon Spikes #55 of the New England Patriots celebrates after intercepting a pass from Joe Flacco (not pictured) #5 of the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth quarter during their AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

When Madden 2005 introduced the "hit stick" feature to its game, people began taking advantage of the ability to drop the hammer on running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers to force incompletions and fumbles. Few plays in the NFL today use the "hit stick" quite as much—or as effectively—as the New England Patriots' Brandon Spikes.

One of the best linebackers in the league against the run, Spikes had several big hits on Sunday on his way to 10 total tackles. Two of his big hits led directly to fumbles by C.J. Spiller, with one of them coming at the Patriots' 1-yard line.

A two-time All American in college, Spikes has been one of the Patriots' most important defensive players in 2012 after spending much of his early career dealing with injuries. Spikes has made up for his poor coverage skills by being an enforcer against the run, and is credited with forcing two fumbles so far this season while having a hand in a few more.

The biggest impact Spikes has had on the Patriots' defense, besides the turnovers, is allowing Jerod Mayo to slide over to the weak side of the formation and be the natural playmaker he is. When Spikes and Mayo played alongside each other for 12 games in 2010, Mayo registered an impressive 175 total tackles and was named a First-Team All-Pro selection.

With Spikes injured in 2011, Mayo made just 95 tackles as he played a more central role.

Back in his natural position in 2012, Mayo leads the team with 43 total tackles through four games, and the Patriots' front seven has been hailed as one of the best in the NFL.

With Spikes and Mayo flying around the field making plays in the running game—and even occasionally in the passing game—the Patriots' front seven will continue to be one of the toughest in the league to play against.