Sub defense looks like the key

November, 4, 2011
11/04/11
6:00
AM ET
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It is often said that football is a game of matchups, and when the Steelers looked at their best matchup against the Patriots last week, they saw a secondary they could exploit.

So they played most of the game in a three-receiver set, which forced the Patriots to bring an extra defensive back on the field. In all, the Patriots had an extra defensive back on 62 of 80 snaps (including penalties).

Here is the season outlook when comparing the base and sub defenses (including penalties):

Sub -- 312 of 492 (63.4 percent)
Base -- 164 of 492 (33.3 percent)
Short-yardage -- 16 of 492 (3.2 percent)

As for how that relates to Sunday's game between the Patriots and Giants, one figures New York offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride will attempt to do the same thing the Steelers did. The Giants look deep at receiver and a Patriots sub defense has proven to be easier to exploit than the base.

The Patriots had cornerback Antwaun Molden as their fifth defensive back Sunday, and he was replaced late in the third quarter by cornerback Phillip Adams. That's the old Leigh Bodden spot, and how the Patriots handle that this week will be watched closely from this perspective.

The game by game breakdown of base vs. sub:

Steelers
Sub --
62 of 80
Base -- 14 of 80
Short-yardage -- 4 of 80

Cowboys
Base
-- 40 of 74*
Sub -- 33 of 74
Short-yardage -- 1 of 74
* Includes one play with 12 men on the field

Jets
Base
-- 33 of 54
Sub -- 21 of 54
Short-yardage -- 0 of 54

Raiders
Base
-- 38 of70*
Sub -- 30 of 70
Short-yardage -- 2 of 70
* includes one play with 10 men on the field

Bills
Sub
-- 58 of 66
Base -- 2 of 66
Short-yardage -- 6 of 66

Chargers
Sub
-- 49 of 72
Base -- 22 of 72
Short-yardage -- 1 of 72

Dolphins
Sub
-- 59 of 76
Base -- 15 of 76
Short yardage -- 2 of 76

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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