Jerod Mayo is expected to miss several weeks with a sprained MCL
The New England Patriots’ weekend excursion to Oakland resulted in a good news/bad news situation for Pats fans. The good news is that the Patriots emerged victorious with a 31-19 victory over the once-upstart Raiders.
But the potentially awful news is that, according to Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald, star linebacker Jerod Mayo is expected to miss several weeks (four to six, as of now) with a sprained MCL. This news may have scores of Patriots fans panicking on the surface, but deep down, they shouldn’t be.
Here are five reasons New England can cope without Jerod Mayo.
Lofa Tatupu could be Jerod Mayo's temporary replacement
This NFL offseason was very unique for many reasons—mainly all of them stemming from the labor lockout. One reason was because it left a number of quality veteran free agents out of a job.
Even four weeks into the year, there are still many able bodies roaming the free agent sidelines, eager to contribute to a team in need. So it may be wise for Bill Belichick and the Patriots to scour the waiver wire to find Mayo’s temporary replacement.
Someone who should immediately be considered is middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who’s still waiting to sign on somewhere. New England should strongly consider bringing him to Foxborough for a look.
Another linebacker currently without a team is former Tennessee Titan Keith Bulluck, who has seen time at both outside and inside linebacker. Frankly, it’s surprising neither Tatupu nor Bulluck is playing football right now. I believe both still have something to offer a team like the Patriots—at least for a few weeks.
Dane Fletcher may be the new man in the middle for the Patriots
If the Patriots don’t replace Mayo via free agency, it will be because either Bill Belichick doesn’t think anybody out there can help, or he believes Mayo’s replacement is already on the roster.
And he just may be.
Fellow linebacker Gary Guyton replaced Mayo in Oakland after he went down, and played well for the most part (although he was badly out of place on Michael Bush’s rushing touchdown for Oakland).
He could fill in for Mayo, but the more logical choice here is Dane Fletcher. A second-year inside linebacker, Fletcher has played well for New England so far this season, even seeing time on offense in goal-line situations.
If Belichick limits his reps on offense and plays him more in the middle of the defense, Pats fans may forget that Mayo was ever there—at least for a few weeks.
Jerod Mayo is a tackling machine, not a turnover machine
Now, I’m not trying to understate Mayo’s presence on the Patriots' defense. He’s a Pro Bowl player, one who was recently voted one of the NFL’s top 100 by his peers.
But Mayo is a tackling machine—not necessarily a playmaker. Yes, he registers a ton of tackles on a weekly basis manning the middle, but when was the last time he had a big sack or turnover?
Mayo hardly ever registers a sack because that’s not his role in Bill Belichick’s scheme, and never picks off a pass due to his hands of stone. If the Patriots were trying to compensate for more of a playmaking linebacker—like Clay Matthews—then I’d be concerned.
But they’re simply finding someone who can tackle. So, in essence, I guess I really am understating Mayo’s presence.
Vince Wilfork can take pressure off of Jerod Mayo's replacement
Bill Belichick can prevent Jerod Mayo’s replacement from being exposed because he has two of the best interior defensive linemen in the game in both Albert Haynesworth and Vince Wilfork.
Yes, Haynesworth hasn’t been healthy very much in 2011, but he proved in the opening game of the season that when he’s playing and motivated, he’s still a very disruptive force in both the running and passing games.
And Wilfork is playing as well ever, even leading the defense in interceptions so far in 2011 with two. Haynesworth and Wilfork causing chaos in the middle will make it that much easier for whomever plays middle linebacker in Mayo’s absence.
Of course, this is all contingent on Haynesworth returning to the lineup, which may still be a pipe dream, given how Fat Albert still looks like he plays only when he wants to.
The Patriots defense has been porous, with or without Jerod Mayo
Even when Jerod Mayo was healthy, the Patriots' defense was arguably the worst in the league. So just how much are they going to miss him, if at all?
Mayo is a great player, but even he wasn’t saving New England from giving up tons of yards and points on a weekly basis.
So far, the Patriots' defense has made Chad Henne look like Dan Marino, Philip Rivers look like Dan Fouts, Ryan Fitzpatrick look like Jim Kelly and… well, you get the point.
Chances are, next week the defense will even make the abysmal Mark Sanchez look like Joe Namath—at least for one game—but they likely would’ve done that with or without Mayo. It’s no secret why the Patriots have been awful defensively.
From a defensive line pieced together with veteran castoffs from the scrapheap to a secondary littered with special teamers, even Pro Bowlers like Mayo are left powerless to turn this defense into a formidable one.
That’s why Patriots fans shouldn’t worry too much about Mayo’s injury. With or without him, the defense is defenseless.