Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Patriots [Print without images]

Friday, January 3, 2014
When sub defense is the new 'base' defense

By Mike Reiss

One of the areas that was 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.

In Sunday's win against the Bills, the Patriots played a base defense more than they had in recent weeks against the Dolphins and Ravens. This seemed to reflect the emphasis on limiting the Bills' running game, led by Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, so they devoted more resources to the box as the Bills ran plenty of two-back and two-TE groupings.

The Patriots played 24 of the first 43 snaps in base before it became a "passing game" for the Bills in the final quarter and all but one snap on the final four drives came in sub for the Patriots' defense. Overall, the Patriots were in their sub defense on 67 percent of the snaps this season.

This is a topic that came up in Bill O'Brien's introductory news conference as head coach of the Houston Texans today. When O'Brien was asked what type of offense and defense he plans to run, he cited the trend in the NFL in which more teams are playing sub defense the majority of the time.

"About 70 percent of the games are played in nickel and dime defense because of the way the type of league that it is.” O’Brien said. “We’ll evaluate the personnel on this team and we’ll do a really good job of putting together a good football team and then we’ll adapt the systems to the players that we bring into this program.”

Overall, here are the numbers for the Patriots this season (small margin for error, includes penalties):

Sub defense: 774 of 1,155 snaps (67.0 percent)
Base defense: 358 of 1,155 snaps (30.9 percent)
Short-yardage: 23 of 1,155 snaps (1.9 percent)