For this week’s closer look at the Patriots’ opponent, we turn to Andrew Abramson of the Palm Beach Post.
The Patriots face the Dolphins at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
1. The Dolphins are 3-3 after starting 3-0. What was the biggest reason for the hot start, and the biggest reason for the losing streak?
Early this season, it looked like quarterback Ryan Tannehill was emerging as one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks. He had a 94.7 passer rating in the first three games, and led an impressive game-winning drive against Atlanta. But in Miami’s three losses, Tannehill’s passer rating dropped to 71.7, which has been a huge reason for the Dolphins slump. Miami’s offensive line has struggled to protect Tannehill, and now he appears to be rushing his throws and making poor decisions in anticipation of sacks. The knee injury to All-Pro defensive end Cam Wake has also slowed the Dolphins down. Wake should play against the Patriots, but he is not himself and Miami is not pressuring opposing quarterbacks.
2. How is Ryan Tannehill developing in his second season? Do the Dolphins feel like they have their answer at quarterback?
It’s tough to fully evaluate Tannehill until Miami solves its offensive line woes. The Dolphins brought in aging left tackle Bryant McKinnie to help with pass protection but it remains to be seen whether McKinnie is the answer. At his best, Tannehill can throw a nice, accurate deep ball and he’s also shown leadership ability when the Dolphins are trailing. But his accuracy isn’t always there and he sometimes struggles to read defenses. For now, Tannehill is still the long-term answer at quarterback.
3. The Dolphins spent $98 million guaranteed in free agency, including $30 million on Mike Wallace. How is he doing this year, and the free agents in general?
Wallace and Tannehill are still working to develop chemistry although it appears to be improving in recent weeks. Wallace has struggled with drops this year, a problem he had in Pittsburgh last season. His presence has opened up the field for receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, but so far Wallace is not playing like a $30 million man. Newly acquired linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler have had mixed results replacing Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett – Miami has had trouble stopping the run at times and defending tight ends. Cornerback Brent Grimes, who signed a 1-year deal with the Dolphins, has been a steal for Miami.
4. Who is one player that Patriots fans may not have heard of but will have an impact on Sunday’s game?
Tight end Charles Clay isn’t a great blocker but he’s turning into one of the league’s better pass catching tight ends. Clay was supposed to play more of a hybrid h-back role but was forced into the starting job when offseason signee Dustin Keller tore his ACL in the preseason. Clay is 11th among NFL tight ends with 304 receiving yards and that includes a bye week. He is on pace to shatter Randy McMichael’s team record for most receiving yards by a tight end.
5. Finally, the Dolphins will win if....
Everything clicks and they resemble the team that started 3-0. Wake will have to give the Dolphins a pass rushing presence, the offensive line will have to protect Tannehill and running backs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas will have to fight for the extra yards. Coach Joe Philbin said Miami will have to play its best game of the year to win in New England and he wasn’t being facetious. Follow Ben Volin on Twitter at @BenVolin. Follow Andrew Abramson on Twitter at @AbramsonPBP.