- Field Yates, ESPN Insider
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That changes this weekend, as the Patriots will host the Dolphins Sunday at Gillette Stadium with the chance to improve to 3-1 in the division.
2013 was viewed as a critical year for Miami, as the Dolphins were big spenders in free agency this offseason, inking deals with coveted wide receiver Mike Wallace, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and standout cornerback Brent Grimes. General manager Jeff Ireland invested plenty of resources to thrust the Dolphins into the playoff conversation, though the team decided to ride it out with second-year player Jonathan Martin as their left tackle, a decision that some have questioned.
The Dolphins worked to patch up their offensive line by acquiring veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie from the Ravens on Monday, opening the door for McKinnie to take over for Martin, perhaps as soon as Sunday.
The Dolphins got off to a red-hot start, opening the season 3-0, including two road victories (one over the Colts), which had some suggesting they were ready to compete for the AFC East crown.
The team has come back down to earth since, losing three straight games and falling to third place in the AFC East.
For more on the Dolphins, below is our weekly primer.
Record: 3-3 (3rd in AFC East)
Head coach: Joe Philbin (second season)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Sherman
Defensive coordinator: Kevin Coyle
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, OFFENSE
1. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Now in his second season, Tannehill projects as the centerpiece for this franchise for years to come. After years of rolling through quarterbacks in the post-Dan Marino era, many in Miami believe Tannehill has what it takes to be a consistent starter and valuable chip going forward. A college wide receiver, Tannehill is an exceptional athlete who can break the pocket and hurt a defense with both his arms and legs. He’s cool under pressure, which is critical because he faces about as much duress as any other quarterback behind a shaky offensive line.
2. Center Mike Pouncey. As mentioned previously, the Dolphins offensive line has had no shortage of struggles this season, allowing 26 sacks through six games. But one player they can count on is Pouncey, a ferocious former first-rounder with exceptional athleticism and the ability to maul in the running game. Pouncey is the twin brother of Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey (currently on IR for the year), and the duo is among the best young interior linemen in the game. With no Vince Wilfork, the Patriots' interior defensive line will really be tested by Pouncey.
3. Wide receiver Mike Wallace/wide receiver Brian Hartline. Wallace received $30 million in guaranteed money to depart Pittsburgh for Miami, and the speedy Ole Miss product has big-play potential. He hasn’t had quite the impact thus far in Miami that many expected, but with his scintillating speed he’s a target that must be accounted for on every snap. Hartline got his own big contract this offseason and seems to be the most trusted wideout for Tannehill, as he leads the Dolphins in catches (31) and yards (401).
THREE PLAYERS TO KNOW, DEFENSE
1. Defensive end Cameron Wake. A bye week in Week 6 served Wake well, as he was limited to just one series the week before against Baltimore due to a lingering knee sprain. The feared pass-rusher is the center point of the Dolphins defense, causing havoc on nearly any dropback passing occasion and pairing with top draft choice Dion Jordan to give Miami one of the better sack artist duos in the game. Wake was a focal point for the Patriots during their matchups last season, though he was able to best an ailing Sebastian Vollmer for 1.5 sacks during a Week 12 matchup. The Patriots straightened things out for Week 17, keeping Wake off the sack board.
2. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Ellerbe turned a productive postseason into a handsome pay raise, leaving Baltimore after winning the Super Bowl and signing a five-year deal with the Dolphins. He mans the middle for Miami on defense and is part of a very good linebacker group, though Ellerbe is currently ailing. He missed Sunday’s game against the Bills due to a shoulder injury, though his status for this week is still unknown. He’s a talented run stuffer who displayed better movement skills than many gave him credit for down the stretch last season.
3. Cornerback Brent Grimes. Yet another newcomer this offseason, Grimes brings a certain peskiness about him to the Miami secondary. Though not a big cornerback (5-foot-10, 190 pounds), few cornerbacks have Grimes’ reactive athleticism and ball skills. He is a terrific leaper who can compete at the point of catch and the feet and instincts to mirror routes. Quarterbacks who stare down their throws when targeting a receiver covered by Grimes seldom find much success. He has 19 tackles and an interception this season.
OTHER NOTES: From the "did you know" department: Unlike most NFL teams, the Dolphins are using Thursday as their day off this season. Tuesday is the customary day for players to take off. ... The Dolphins are looking to feature second-year back Lamar Miller more this season, though Daniel Thomas remains a short-yardage and goal-line option. ... The Dolphins re-signed a pair of key defensive cornerstones this offseason, giving extensions to safety Reshad Jones and linebacker Koa Misi. ... The Patriots pitched their lone shutout of the 2012 season against Miami at Gillette Stadium, concluding the regular season with a 28-0 win.
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