Jerod Mayo entered this week with a team-best 89 tackles, including 60 of the solo variety. He's easily on pace to crack the 100-tackle mark for the second straight season -- particularly impressive given that he missed almost four full games with a knee injury.
Still, though, for the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, for a player who was expected to be among the NFL's elite linebackers entering the season, Mayo has had an awfully quiet season. An examination of the film a couple of weeks ago revealed that Mayo hasn't necessarily been in position to make plays -- but, still, the best defensive players find ways to get to the ball and to strip it or intercept it or otherwise disrupt what the offense is trying to do.
A look at Mayo's other defensive numbers this season:
* 1.5 sacks -- his only solo sack was against Indianapolis;
* 3 quarterback hits;
* 0 interceptions
* 0 pass break-ups
* 1 forced fumble
Just for the sake of comparison:
* Patrick Willis, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007, had a sack, a forced fumble, 10 pass break-ups and an interception he returned 86 yards for a touchdown in his second season with the San Francisco 49ers;
* Keith Rivers, the linebacker taken one spot ahead of Mayo in the NFL draft in 2008, has a pass break-up, a forced fumble and an interception in his second season with the Cincinnati Bengals;
* James Laurinaitis, the linebacker the Patriots could have drafted in the first round last season before trading down, has three pass break-ups, two interceptions and a forced fumble in his rookie season with the St. Louis Rams.
Just for the sake of context:
* Randy Moss has more interceptions than Mayo;
* Sam Aiken has as many forced fumbles as Mayo;
* Pat Chung has more sacks than Mayo;
* Rob Ninkovich and Adalius Thomas both have more pass break-ups than Mayo.
Just for the sake of running the numbers: Here's a look at the sum of big plays -- sacks, hits on the quarterback, interceptions, pass break-ups and forced fumbles -- the Patriots have recorded defensively this season:
* Tully Banta-Cain, 23.5 (including 8.5 sacks)
* Leigh Bodden, 22 (including 17 pass break-ups)
* Mike Wright, 15 (including five sacks)
* Brandon Meriweather, 13 (including four interceptions)
* Derrick Burgess, 12 (including four sacks)
* Gary Guyton, 11 (including six quarterback hits)
* Brandon McGowan, 11 (including three forced fumbles)
* Adalius Thomas, 11 (including three sacks)
* Darius Butler, 9 (including two interceptions)
* Jonathan Wilhite, 7 (including two interceptions)
* Ty Warren, 6 (including four quarterback hits)
* Patrick Chung, 6 (including two sacks)
* Jerod Mayo, 5.5 (including one forced fumble)
The only defensive starter who ranks behind Mayo on that list is nose tackle Vince Wilfork -- and it's the job of Wilfork to occupy two blockers so Mayo can make plays.
This isn't meant as criticism, necessarily. For all we know, the knee injury that sidelined Mayo for a month might still be lingering, might still be hindering the explosiveness that he showed off a year ago. But if Mayo is indeed healthy, today's game against Jacksonville would be a terrific time for the second-year linebacker to start making some big plays.
Part of the reason his big-play numbers are down, after all, has been the way he's been used. He hasn't been sent after the quarterback, and he's actually played quite a few snaps in a no-man's-land zone coverage that looks something like a spy that teams employ against running quarterbacks.
The Jaguars have a running quarterback in David Garrard, the most prolific running quarterback the Patriots have faced this season. It'll fall either to Mayo or to Gary Guyton to contain Garrard and keep him either from getting around the edge or from sneaking through the defensive line.
It's been an unspectacular season for Mayo thus far.
Today would be a great time for that to change.