The Patriots held linebacker Jamie Collins out of Friday's practice due to a bruised thigh. He was limited earlier this week. While he's still not ruled out, the Patriots tend to not play anyone who misses the last practice before the game. It's likely his availability will be a game-time decision.
With the roster already thin at linebacker, the loss of Collins would put the defense in a bad position. Still, the team is not without options should they need to make an adjustment.
Fingers crossed, the team will be featuring more of their 4-3 front, or at least use personnel better suited for the 3-4 front. With Sealver Siliga another week healthier and the return of Chris Jones imminent, it looks as if the team getting closer to full strength along the defensive line.
Should the team decide to play 3-4 against the Vikings, a line-up of Dominique Easley, Vince Wilfork, and Siliga would be a strong front three. A rotation to get Easley, Siliga, and Chris Jones on the field on pass rushing situations would also be ideal.
This would let the Patriots play Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich at outside linebacker- much better than playing Jones at 3-4 defensive end- and Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower at inside linebacker.
This unit isn't bad and would likely be able to get the job done. It would give the team bigger bodies up front to help slow the run game, while still allowing the Patriots to clog the passing lanes where Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph will be patrolling.
A 4-3 front would be possible, with Chandler, Wilfork, Easley, and Ninkovich on the defensive line, and Hightower, Mayo, and Darius Fleming at linebacker. It's also possible to play rookie Zach Moore at defensive end and push Ninkovich to linebacker, or see if Michael Buchanan is healthy enough from his ankle injury to play either linebacker or defensive end.
This unit has a clear hole at linebacker, but the rest of the unit is solid enough to be effective.
The best option, in my opinion, would be a hybrid front. It would align as follows:
Chandler Jones at the R7-tech. This means he's a gap outside of the left tackle. This lets him be a more effective pass rusher, while still being in position to defend against the run.
Dominique Easley at the R3-tech. Easley is best as an interior rusher and this would allow him to disrupt the pocket.
Vince Wilfork at the L1-tech. Wilfork will be able to eat space if Easley is a disruptor and could clog the middle. He's also able to push through the center to preven the quarterback from stepping up in the pocket.
Sealver Siliga at the L5-tech. Using a 3-4 hybrid, Siliga would take a role typically saved for 3-4 defensive ends. He can control the pocket and won't be a primary pass rusher, but he'll add value against the run and prevent the pocket from getting established.
Dont'a Hightower as the ROLB. There is a fair gap between Jones and Easley- they're aligning on the outside of the left tackle and the inside of the left guard, which means that Hightower would be responsible for this gap. Ideally, Brandon Spikes would crush this gap, but Hightower will have to come close enough. He's the heaviest and strongest linebacker to perform the task.
Jerod Mayo as the MLB. Mayo can patrol and drop into his depths in coverage. He can also do his weekly delayed blitz to catch the Vikings off guard. He'll be the best coverage linebacker with Collins sidelined.
Rob Ninkovich as the LOLB. Staying true to the hybrid concept, Nink will act as more of a 3-4 outside linebacker, helping to provide Siliga with protection and taking advantage of attacking the edge.
This line-up allows the Patriots to attack the run and the pass, while not being exposed in the middle of the field.
Hopefully Collins will be able to play and this exercise will never come to fruition.
The Patriots have officially listed Collins, Buchanan, Chris Jones, Siliga, and Ryan Wendell (knee) as questionable for Sunday's game. Rob Gronkowski is listed as probable.