Defensive Adjustment: Charting Patriots Personnel in Wake of Jerod Mayo’s Pectoral Injury

The Patriots defense will be forced to adjust without Jerod Mayo, who suffered a torn pectoral muscle versus the Saints. (Photo: USA Today Sports Images)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

As Yahoo Sports’ Les Carpenter first reported, the New England Patriots will be without captain and two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jerod Mayo for the foreseeable future. In the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints, Mayo and teammate Steve Gregory collided on opposite ends of Saints tailback Darren Sproles.

The pass from quarterback Drew Brees fell incomplete. The incompletion, however, also left the six-year pro wincing on the Gillette Stadium turf. And it was later learned that Mayo had suffered a torn right pectoral muscle and underwent surgery Tuesday.

According to Mike Petraglia of, the tear was suspected to sideline the 2008 first-round draft pick for eight weeks at the very least. But with New England having spent its injured reserve-designated to return tag on running back Shane Vereen, Mayo was placed on injured reserve Wednesday. His season is over.

Where do the Patriots go from here? Can the defense find a way to function without the 27-year-old’s 407 defensive snaps, 55 tackles and two sacks through six contests? The answer to those questions is not yet known, but what we do know is how New England reacted in his absence.

Mayo departed from the Week 6 matchup with 3:35 left in the final frame. His right arm wrapped around Sproles just as Gregory’s hit reverberated. It was a case of two forces attacking another, from different directions.

When Mayo made it to the bench, Patriots team doctor Thomas Gill began to work on the right side of his chest, particularly the pectoral muscle.

Out on the field, though, the Patriots began to work on stopping the Saints.

During first play without the starting weak-side ‘backer, a 3rd-and-20, the Patriots lined up in a 4-1 dime package with four down linemen – Rob Ninkovich, Chris Jones, Chandler Jones and Michael Buchanan – along with second-year strong-side linebacker Dont’a Hightower.

Two defensive tackles bunched on the right side of the line and a defensive tackle-defensive end collection spaced on the other, this was a variation of what’d we’ve seen in the past from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

The play resulted in a 34-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Kenny Stills, putting the Saints up 24-23.

After the Patriots offense turned it over on downs during the following series, the Saints were back on the field with ideal field position, looking to advance the lead and drain the clock. In turn, the run game was the first choice of action.

New England keyed in on it, sending out a loaded defensive front consisting of five defensive linemen – Rob Ninkovich, Joe Vellano, Marcus Forston, Chris Jones and Chandler Jones. Among linebackers, the unit utilized rookie second-rounder Jamie Collins at the line between Ninkovich and Vellano, Brandon Spikes and Dane Fletcher at traditional inside linebacker spots, and Hightower at the line between the Jones pairing.

With two three-techniques flanking Forston at the nose, the outskirts carried three Patriots defensive ends or linebackers apiece.

The Saints’ “22” setup with two backs and two tight ends netted a four-yard gain.

And after two timeouts were expended, the clock read 2:36. The Saints showed “22” personnel again, suggesting another run. Consequently, the Patriots played a similar nucleus to the previous play. Only this time, Hightower was up on the tight end side of the line and Collins was just steps behind him.

A tally of six stand-up linebackers and defensive ends were in the mix with the three defensive tackles. It could be referred to as a 3-6, a 6-3 or a 5-4 formation depending on one’s perspective.

Whatever it was, it was effective. the Patriots forced the Saints back for a one-yard loss.

On 3rd-and-6 from the New England 21-yard line with 2:33 left in the action, New Orleans displayed two backs, only to motion fullback Jed Collins out wide in an effort to deter the defense. Nevertheless, the Patriots posted the same personnel and shipped Collins to cover the slot and Spikes out to cover the fullback.

Brees dropped back and targeted wideout Marques Colston, but cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was there and the pass fell to the ground. The Saints were left to kick the field goal, making the score 27-23.

The next Patriots offensive drive lasted only one play, as QB Tom Brady threw an interception intended for slot receiver Julian Edelman. Nonetheless, if there was any consolation, it didn’t sacrifice much time.

New Orleans offense returned to the field at the 2:16 mark, aiming to close the game out via the ground. New England trotted out the same assortment to prevent any sort of rushing play. Hightower and Collins hugged the two-tight end set and the rest remained almost identical.

The Saints managed just two yards on the ensuing handoff. New England took its third timeout with 10 seconds to spare before the two-minute warning.

On the next play, a 2nd-and-8, New Orleans implemented a one-man backfield behind Brees and orchestrated the fullback to the slot. The Patriots switched things up on the other side of the ball, retreating to a 3-4. Vellano stood in the five-technique head over the right tackle, Forston subbed out which moved the interior Jones to nose,  and the edge-rushing Jones manned the five-technique across from the left tackle.

Behind the three-man line, Ninkovich extended outside Vellano in place of Collins at linebacker, Spikes and Fletcher huddled close with the A-gaps, and Hightower mimicked Ninkovich.

A run off the right end landed the Saints a gain of only one yard. The contest ticked down to the two-minute timeout.

And that meant that the Saints had to either convert on 3rd-and-7 or punt it away. New Orleans head coach Sean Payton vied to convert with the run. By and large it was a conservative decision, the “22,” but it was one that could expire valuable seconds and perhaps acquire a fresh set of downs.

It was up to the undermanned Patriots defense to dictate otherwise.

The front went back to the run-stopping enforcements of Ninkovich and Jones outside, Vellano, Forston and the undrafted Jones inside the trenches, Hightower and Collins barricading the tight ends, and Spikes and Fletcher over top.

Brees took the snap from center and proceeded to lose five yards in the direction of the left end. The Patriots lived to see another offensive chance.

That chance turned into a 30-27 victory for New England.

Now, the Patriots defense survived without the services of Mayo for seven defensive downs, but it’s important to note that the triumphs hinged on the situation. New Orleans opting to pass just twice in response to Mayo’s departure contributed to the outcome.

With that said, the Patriots came through with the adjustments and resistance to make the Oct. 13 victory possible. Fletcher, an adept cover linebacker and special teamer, may ultimately assume Mayo’s duties in the base 4-3. Although from the small sample size on film, it’s clear that the reboot will be more than a one-man fix.

When the defense went to the nickel, it was solely Hightower in the mix at linebacker. When the run scenario unfolded, the coaching staff turned to four linebackers and incorporated Collins’ explosive athleticism for five plays. And on another play, Ninkovich was called to his old stomping grounds at 3-4 outside linebacker.

From what we saw Sunday evening, it’s evident that the leadership and production of Mayo will not be replaced by one source.

All hands will be needed on deck.

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12 Responses to “Defensive Adjustment: Charting Patriots Personnel in Wake of Jerod Mayo’s Pectoral Injury”

  1. acm says:

    Collins and Beauharnis may have to grow up quicker than planned. I think Fletcher will do well once he fully shakes off the rust. If not, let’s hope the Cards’ season is over soon, so they feel like trading for Dansby 😉

    Still, makes you wonder if shelving Vereen on IR-to return so quickly wasn’t a bit too hurried a decision, considering he was expected to be gone for about 6 weeks i.e. be back for week 7 or 8. Maybe that could have left a possibility for Mayo to return with a couple of games left in the season, I think. After all, it’s not like they haven’t been able to carry a useless RB on the roster all this time (L. Washington). And no, this isn’t a case of hindsight being 20/20.

    • karnak says:

      Not likely, pec tears are difficult injuries to recover from in contact sports. Little chance Mayo would have been back this season.

      • acm says:

        that could well be the case as I agree that this type of injuries are tricky to heal. Still, ultimately it depends on the extent of the injury in this particular case and the first reports on Mayo’s recovery time mentioned 6-8 weeks (5-7 games, considering the bye). That would have had him back in top shape just in time for the POffs. Of course, one has to wonder how accurate that estimate was in the first place but I can’t help it but think that BB would have loved to have had the IR-to-return spot still available … not to mention Vereen would have been out there for an extra 2-3 weeks, it seems.

    • steve earle says:

      We’re getting interesting now talking trades. Dansby sounds good, how do you see this unfolding? What else are you thinking given the holes due to injurys. Hear anything on the Armstead front?

      • acm says:

        No idea on Armstead – unless he was treated for something life-threatening, I reckon he should start practicing soon (this week is his first of eligibility for practicing with the team but he wasn’t out there for the 1st session, iirc). Speculative guess would be he starts taking snaps by week 10, emphasis on speculative.

        Regrading the LB position, I think they try to take care of this with the players already here, Fletcher to start with and Collins and Beauharnis both get their playing time increased. Trades would probably factor in only if the above fails or there is another injury to a starting LB (of those the Pats can’t afford anymore at this point) … and trades are generally easier to engineer later into the season when it’s become more or less clear which team is making the POffs and which isn’t. Trades for vet players on 1-year deals like Dansby, shouldn’t come at too high a price – if the Cards’ season goes down the crapper over the next 5 games or so, it would make more sense for them to trade him away even only for a 6th/7th rounder.

        Another trade to dream on – Mallett to the Browns for Phil Taylor, if his production doesn’t significantly improve from last season and their QB situation stays as desperate. tyler Wilson (on the Raiders practice squad) to replace Mallett as back up QB – let’s face it, if Brady goes down, the Pats are screwed anyways.

        • steve earle says:

          I’m begining to wonder why Bill signed Armstead in the first place, if, as you suspect, week 10 is the target date, unless he thinks the guy is going to be a real differance maker?

          Think your right on LB’s. Fletcher has shown before he has potential. Not a Mayo but a good solid player. As for late season trades those can’t happen until after the season is over due to the trade deadline rule as I understand it. As for Mallett being traded that will have to happen pretty quick as his stock is now at it’s highest with at least 6-7 teams in dire need at the position. Again after the trade deadline his stock goes down because, unless I’m wrong his contract ends after the season and he becomes a free agent. Then it may be Bill want’s to keep him and will try to sign him to an extension. Stranger things have happened.

        • acm says:

          I have high expectations about Armstead and think BB is justifiably and non-coincidentally so patient with his situation.

          As for Mallet, I believe he has one more year left on his contract beyond this season.

        • steve earle says:

          acm, Hope your right about Mallet having another year and think your right that Bill is being patient with Armstead. I’ts me that is getting impatient. To many key injurys for my comfort plus I’d like to see Bill bring in some help this season. But as Bill often says “it is what it is”.

    • JMC says:

      I think if they would have wanted Dansby they would have signed him-

  2. steve earle says:

    The accumulated injurys to key def players has to have a negative effect at some point. I really like the potential of several of our younger guys but rookies make mistakes and usually at the worst possable times. Even with a fairly soft schedual left I fear we could be looking at .500 record in the last 10 games. To do better Bill will have to pull off an incredable feat. —- Go BILL!!!!!!

  3. J H TARBORO says:

    Get Jamie Collins ready! and Steve Beauharnis to cover slots. Pats D is about to change maybe not for the worst, hopefully Armond Armstead will be ready and our practice squader Ja Gared Davis maybe pretty good?

  4. nicojones says:

    great breakdown, mr thomas
    i think fletch & collins will do a good job
    players need playing time to flourish and improve their skills
    and i think this unfortunate turn of events will give them that opportunity
    go pats!

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