The New England Patriots lost defensive tackle Vince Wilfork early in the game against the Atlanta Falcons. One player who didn’t play much at all but was perfectly healthy was middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. There were good reasons to keep Spikes out, but not for the whole game.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick used a heavy array of nickel, dime and sub package defenses against the Atlanta offense. He thought it best to use several defensive backs to deal with the spread attack. With Falcons running back Steven Jackson out, Belichick knew that Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter would call for a lot of passing plays. So to use loads of defensive backs, Belichick would have to take out a linebacker or two.
Spikes was easily the odd man out in this equation. Outside linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower are much better in coverage. They would both stay on the field in Belichick’s nickel defense, and only one of them would stay on the field in a dime or sub package defense. Spikes usually only plays in Belichick’s base 4-3 defense.
So we know that Spikes struggles in coverage, but he excels in run defense and as a blitzer. Koetter is obviously going to call some run plays, and it wouldn’t have hurt to put some extra heat on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan once in awhile. But that’s not what Belichick does. He rarely uses a base defense anymore, opting to spread the field with defensive backs to oppose spread attacks like what Koetter runs. And it’s hard to argue against the results given the success of the defense so far.
The negative in all this is that Spikes is a good football player. He is an elite run-stuffer whose aggressiveness can really define a defense, but he is a part-time player in today’s NFL because he really struggles in coverage. Hopefully Belichick finds a role for him in the future.
Philip Alexander is a New England Patriots writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @steely0906, “like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.