The status of New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins is still up in the air, but the name of his top back-up shouldn't be up for discussion.
It's Jerod Mayo, full stop, no more questions, thank you.
The Patriots captain hasn't been able to play much this season, only seeing heavy snaps when either Jamie Collins or Dont'a Hightower have been unavailable. He's been toiling behind special teamer Jonathan Freeny in the depth chart, just waiting for an opportunity.
The door opened last week against the Giants.
After opening the game with a three linebacker set, with Hightower, Freeny, and Mayo, Freeny assumed the role of starting linebacker next to Hightower for the rest of the half. A rough second quarter let former Bears linebacker Jonathan Bostic step into the line-up for the Giants two minute drill to close the half. Bostic almost let a touchdown after breaking down in coverage, before Devin McCourty was able to make a goal line tackle. The Giants scored, anyways.
Jonathan Freeny did not have a good second quarter. https://t.co/c0uXaKLi6d— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) November 19, 2015
Freeny was put back on the field for the opening drive of the second half, where he showed improvements over his first half impact, but he absolutely blew his coverage of Will Tye, but was saved the embarrassment of a touchdown by a poorly thrown ball by Eli Manning.
After that moment, Mayo stepped into the line-up and the Patriots defense was better. The Giants scored 20 points on the six drives with Freeny, versus just 6 points on the five drives with Mayo. This isn't to say that the linebacker was the sole difference, but it was evident that Manning wanted to pick on Freeny every time he was in coverage.
Mayo isn't his old self. He's not as fluid in the open field and he seems tight in the chest when he runs. But he's still a much better player than Freeny, and he looks better than he did earlier in the season.
Where Freeny hesitates in the gap for run defense, Mayo plugs it immediately, knowing that he'll either make the tackle, or he'll stop the running back to allow another defender to make the play. There were multiple occasions where Freeny would try to stand his ground, instead of attack the hole, which would allow an offensive lineman to get to the second level and initiate a block. Mayo doesn't let the offense dictate the play.
Where Freeny loses coverage of the running back or tight end, Mayo doesn't panic and makes sure the offensive player declares his route before committing to its defense. Mayo makes sure he has enough depth away from the receiver in order to make the play. Freeny is okay when asked to cover in man, but he lacks the recovery and savvy to do so on a consistent basis.
Where Freeny flourishes is on special teams, and that's where he should play. He lacks the snap-to-snap consistency that Bill Belichick requires in all of his defenders. Mayo is a far better option and he deserves to be atop the back-ups on the depth chart.