Fifth DB trumps third LB for Patriots

One of the areas that will be charted throughout the season is the New England Patriots' defensive breakdown between their sub and base packages. This can highlight player value and take us deeper into the X's and O's of each game.

One of the themes from the first quarter of the season is that the Patriots' fifth defensive back (Kyle Arrington or Alfonzo Dennard) has been more of a "starter" than a third linebacker (Brandon Spikes).

Spikes, who is viewed as more of a run-stuffing linebacker and a potential liability in coverage, has played just 90 of 285 snaps this season.

This particularly showed up last Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons when the Patriots were in either a nickel (five defensive backs) or dime (six defensive backs) package for all but six of their snaps. Spikes played just six snaps in the game.

The reason the Patriots leaned toward the sub defense was because the Falcons most often had three receivers on the field, and the Patriots also viewed their tight ends more as receivers.

That has heavily skewed the numbers for the season:

Sub defense: 209 of 285 snaps

Base defense: 76 of 285 snaps

Spinning it forward, the Bengals mostly run a two-tight end offense with one running back and two receivers.

How the Patriots view tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert will determine whether they stay in a pure base defense, or if they lean toward a sub package. Losing top run-stuffing defensive tackle Vince Wilfork also will be a factor in the coaching staff's thinking.