The New England Patriots have ruled out a pair of players for tomorrow's road game against the Seattle Seahawks, with the team announcing on Twitter that wide receiver Julian Edelman and linebacker Dont'a Hightower have been downgraded to out.
While the Patriots were likely prepared for life without Julian Edelman, especially with Aaron Hernandez close to a return to action, Hightower's absence leaves the team thin at linebacker.
Last week against the Broncos, it wasn't a huge deal. The Patriots were in their base defense for less than ten total snaps, and were able to get by with Tracy White in Hightower's spot for those few snaps. Against the run-heavy Seahawks, the Patriots might not feel comfortable with any back-up solution (White or Carpenter) back there, assuming the team is reliant on their base defense, which I fully expect them to be.
So what do the Patriots do without Hightower?
One option could be to move LDE Rob Ninkovich to strong-side linebacker, the position he played for the team in 2011, and was quite effective in. If Ninkovich were to move to linebacker, the team could then move 2010 second round pick Jermaine Cunningham to the starting defensive end spot. Cunningham has performed well in a sub-role this year, and has seen his snaps increase week-to-week. Perhaps he's earned the chance to start.
The Patriots could also simply choose to play veteran Bobby Carpenter in Hightower's spot, as back-up Tracy White is also out with a foot injury.