When it rains, its pours. After avoiding the injury bug for the majority of training camp, it seems as if the defense is falling apart. In the same week that Jerod Mayo was placed on season ending injured reserve, the Patriots look to be without Chandler Jones for the next month with a hip injury.
On Monday, the Patriots acquired linebacker Akeem Ayers from the Titans, pending a physical exam, and it looked as if the Patriots would be moving forward with a strong 4-3 front with Ayers as an outside linebacker, allowing Dont'a Hightower to replace Mayo in the middle.
When news of Jones' injury made headlines, it threw a wrench in the previous expectations; Ayers was shipped out of Tennessee for not fitting in the 3-4 front and the Patriots don't have the defensive ends to create a viable 4-3 attack.
So where do the Patriots go, in arguably their most difficult stretch of passing attacks with the gigantic Bears attack, followed by the lethal Peyton Manning show, a bye week, and then traveling to Andrew Luck and the Colts. That's also followed by the visiting Calvin Johnson and the Lions, and then a back-to-back in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers and San Diego with Philip Rivers.
Chandler Jones and his pass rush can't come back soon enough; the Patriots have to be hoping the one month time table projection is on the safe side.
To adjust to the loss of Jones, the Patriots will have to revert to the 3-4 front out of necessity; there just aren't any viable starters at 4-3 defensive end on the roster. Reports of the Patriots signing Alan Branch show New England adding beef to the trenches, and it's a vote of confidence in Branch as they had experienced Joe Vellano on the practice squad.
It seems likely that the Patriots will play Casey Walker at nose tackle with Vince Wilfork and Chris Jones as the defensive ends. Dominique Easley is far out of place in the 3-4 and it wouldn't be surprising if the Patriots played the 4-2 nickel package on passing downs to get Easley on the field at defensive tackle.
At linebacker, it's possible that Ayers and Rob Ninkovich will hold down the outside linebacker roles, although it might make some sense to put Jamie Collins on the outside and to play Ayers with Hightower in the middle of the field; Ayers is a stout run defender and Collins on the outside allows him to use his athleticism in space.
Still, the Patriots are running dangerously thin in their defensive front seven. Easley is limited in the 3-4 fronts and Zach Moore is too inexperienced to see too much time this season. The depth at linebacker is also depleted. It's possible the Patriots sign another linebacker if they send guard Chris Barker back to the practice squad.