Building a better sub defense

One of the underlying themes of the Patriots' offseason has been building a better sub defense.

As Bill Belichick said at the draft, "It seems like every year, the game is getting a little more spread out for us. We're in nickel defense [5 DBs] more and more every year -- over 50 percent last year. It's hard to be in our base defense as much as we were in the past."

Here was the breakdown of the Patriots' defense in the 2012 regular-season, as charted by ESPNBoston.com (includes most penalties):

Sub -- 712 of 1,126 (63.2 percent)

Base -- 387 of 1,126 (34.3 percent)

Short-yardage -- 27 of 1,126 (2.3 percent)

In 2010, the Patriots were in sub 57 percent of the snaps.

In part because of this growing trend, Belichick has infused the defense with more players in the 250-275-pound range this offseason, the idea to add more speed and athleticism to the sub defense. The Patriots are most often in their sub on third down, which statistically has been a trouble spot the last two years (32nd in 2010, 28th in 2011).

How the sub defense develops will be one of the important storylines to monitor in training camp.

An early look at the team's 2012 schedule indicates that the Patriots will likely be in their sub for most of the snaps, starting with the season-opener in Tennessee, where the Titans are shifting to a three-receiver base offense as first-round pick Kendall Wright is integrated into the mix.

Then looking closer at the AFC East, where the Patriots play six of their 16 games, this is how often the sub defense was employed last season:

Bills -- 126 of 137 (91.9 percent)

Dolphins -- 95 of 144 (65.9 percent)

Jets -- 71 of 126 (56.3 percent)

Some of those numbers are dictated by the game itself (when the Patriots get ahead early, it forces teams into more passing situations), but they mostly reflect a changing game in which the Patriots' defense is playing less 3-4 than ever before.

Just an Xs and Os thought to pass along on a hot, steamy New England day that feels a lot like training camp weather.