FOXBORO -- Brandon Spikes may feel like he's getting mixed messages.
The linebacker, after averaging 28 snaps per game through the season's first three weeks, played just six against the Falcons in Week 4. It's not unusual for Spikes to come off the field when the opposing offense gets in multiple-receiver sets as coverage is not his strong point. But sitting as much as he did in Atlanta? That's unusual.
"I always want to be on the field to help the team out, be out there running around with the guys. We put so much in throughout the week and get one opportunity on Sundays to come out and get it done," Spikes said Friday.
"Sometimes it is a little frustrating, but like I said, whenever my number's called I've just got to go in and play at a high level and get the job done. And that's what I try to do every Sunday."
Starting nose tackle Vince Wilfork suffered a season-ending Achilles tear against the Falcons and left during the game's first series. It was rookie linebacker Jamie Collins, not Spikes, who got the nod.
"Losing Vince is a big loss, but me personally I feel like those guys have got to come in and step up. I feel like I've got to raise my level of play with him being gone, and when my number's called just come in and get the job done"
New England changed its tune the following week, in Cincinnati. With Wilfork's absence creating a 350-pound hole in the middle of the line, the Patriots employed several run blitzes in that area of the field and Spikes, who is an excellent run defender, got the call. He was featured in sub packages and played 57 of a possible 69 snaps. He also grabbed an interception -- his first since 2010.
"I got an opportunity to get in, and I wanted to come in and be productive. I've promised I'm a difference maker when I'm on the field," Spikes stated.
"We lost, so I'm definitely not happy with my performance. But I always feel like there's room for improvement."
The Patriots will need their defense at its very best this weekend with Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense in town.
"They're phenomenal," Spikes admitted. "They've got weapons all over the field -- a great quarterback, receivers, tight ends, running backs -- so you never know. We've just got to do a great job of executing our defense. They're great all around."
Will Brees' tendency to pass mean New England will want more Collins and less Spikes? It's hard to say. The Saints always threaten through the air, but no down is an obvious passing down because running backs Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas are so versatile.
Spikes will have to control whatever gaps appear in the line. And he can. The question is whether the linebacker is comfortable enough in pass coverage to be trusted on more plays, to keep that snap count high.
"Honestly," he scoffed, "I'm always comfortable once I walk on the field."