Early this season, opponents took advantage of a New England defense that struggled to get pressure up front and was susceptible in the secondary to big plays.

The Patriots appear to be tightening up at the right time. They haven’t allowed a 300-yard passer in five consecutive games, or a 100-yard rusher in nine consecutive games. That’s a vast improvement for a unit that gave up 30 or more points three times in the first seven games, including a season-high 40 in narrow win over Kansas City.

Coach Bill Belichick said the improvement is part of an evolving identity in the first season with linebackers coach Brian Flores making defensive calls.

Next up in that evolution is the Miami Dolphins and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is 3-0 with seven TDs and 840 yards with one interception in his past three home games against Patriots.

In two games since returning from an injury to his throwing shoulder, he has a passer rating of 112.7 with five touchdowns and one interception. The performances come amid growing speculation about whether the Dolphins will bring him back next season.

“I have a long way to go to get where I want to be,” he said. “I think I’m doing all right, but a lot of plays I’d like to be better at. I think we have a lot better football in front of us as an offense.”

Tannehill was asked about the predicted high temperature of 83 for Sunday’s game: “Not quite hot enough,” he said with a smile. But the Dolphins have been hot when it comes to the Patriots playing in Miami. The Dolphins have won four of the past five home meetings, including 27-20 last December when Jay Cutler outplayed Tom Brady.

Belichick and his players discount the South Florida climate as a factor, but it does favor the Dolphins, with teams from the north tending to wilt in the warm weather.

“Sometimes it hits some of these teams pretty hard,” Miami Coach Adam Gase said.

“They’ve got a good football team,” Belichick said. “They’ve got a lot of good players.”

That’s fine, Coach, except that in Foxborough, your team has won 10 in a row against Miami by an average score of 33-13. That includes a 38-7 win earlier this season.

And in the standings, the Dolphins have been perennial also-rans to your dynasty.

But history can serve as a motivator.

“The last few times we’ve played them down there, we haven’t played very well,” running back James White acknowledged, “so I think that’s enough motivation.”

TIGHT END Rob Gronkowski said he’s feeling good, but he can be more effective.

“I feel like I can be more effective for sure,” said Gronkowski, who has 35 catches for 530 yards and two TDs in nine games while dealing with a variety of injuries. “I’ve been putting practices together, working hard and doing what I’ve been asked to do. I just have to keep doing that and sticking to that.”

STEPHON GILMORE was added to the Patriots injury report on Friday. The cornerback was limited in practice with an ankle injury. He and tight end Dwayne Allen (knee) are questionable.

MIAMI WIDE receiver Danny Amendola (knee) and center Travis Swanson (ankle) are questionable for Miami. Amendola leads Dolphins with 48 catches and 469 yards receiving. The Dolphins have ruled out center Jake Brendel and cornerback Xavien Howard with knee injuries.