FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After opening the year with three games in which they were mostly in their sub defense (5 or more defensive backs), the Patriots have been in a base 4-3 look for the majority of snaps over the last three wins.
Here is the season outlook when comparing the base and sub defenses (including penalties):
Sub -- 250 of 412 (60.6 percent)
Base -- 150 of 412 (36.4 percent)
Short-yardage -- 12 of 412 (2.9 percent)
These numbers highlight the importance of the team's fifth defensive back, who in recent weeks has been cornerback Leigh Bodden (update: Bodden has been released).
As for how this ties in to Sunday's game against the Steelers, the Patriots have proven they can stand up to the physical test in their base defense. So if the Steelers go with two tight ends or two backs -- matching power on power -- the Patriots should feel good about their chances in a base defense based on recent results.
A bigger question is if the Steelers attack regularly with three receivers, which would likely put the Patriots in sub more often than they have been over the last three games. The Patriots haven't been tested consistently in that area since the Week 3 loss to Buffalo. That could be the game within the game -- can the Patriots exploit the Steelers' protection of that grouping? If they can't, it puts more pressure on the team's defensive backs.
The game by game breakdown of base vs. sub:
Base -- 40 of 74*
Sub -- 33 of 74
Short-yardage -- 1 of 74
* Includes one play with 12 men on the field
Base -- 33 of 54
Sub -- 21 of 54
Short-yardage -- 0 of 54
Base -- 38 of70*
Sub -- 30 of 70
Short-yardage -- 2 of 70
* includes one play with 10 men on the field
Sub -- 58 of 66
Base -- 2 of 66
Short-yardage -- 6 of 66
Sub -- 49 of 72
Base -- 22 of 72
Short-yardage -- 1 of 72
Sub -- 59 of 76
Base -- 15 of 76
Short yardage -- 2 of 76