At the heart of the Patriots defense, which ranks third in the NFL at stopping the run, is its defensive line. The anchor of the Patriots defensive line - and at 325 pounds, he's a fitting one – is nose tackle Vince Wilfork. He's appeared in every game the Patriots have played since entering the league in 2004.
Like most nose tackles in the NFL, his numbers on paper aren't dramatically impressive. He's recorded four quarterback hurries, a pass defensed and a sack this season.
What matters to the team is what Wilfork does for everyone else.
Take the way fellow defensive lineman Ty Warren described his most recent sack, which happened three defensive plays into Sunday's game, as an example.
"I think really it's all a team effort," said Warren on Monday. "I mean on my sack, Vince made a good move. I was where I needed to be, up the field and made a move. And that's kind of the way things happen. Every sack happens like that."
Warren's 6.5 sacks currently place him in a tie for the team lead and he credits Wilfork for helping him boost his stats?
What else does Wilfork contribute?
"Everybody gets their share of double-teams," said Warren of his fellow defensive linemen. "But I mean definitely you've got to double-team Vince."
Warren explained that he and fellow defensive end Richard Seymour may be double-teamed more in specific games, but Wilfork's double-teams are guaranteed every week.
"Different schemes present different double teams," Warren said. "I'll tell you. But all the time Vince's going to get double-teamed, because he's in the center of the defense."
Maybe you haven't been impressed with Wilfork, but then again, you're not seeing what Artrell Hawkins sees from the perspective of his free safety position every time a play develops in front of him.
"He does a lot of intangible things that a lot of people may not particularly pay attention to in a game," said Hawkins on Monday. "But as a safety and as linebackers, he does a lot in terms of stuffing that run. [Opposing offenses] can't just push him around. He's a big, strong and very athletic player."
For those of you who require empirical evidence to be convinced of a player's importance to the team, check this next stat:
The Dolphins put 15 points on the board after Wilfork left Sunday's game with a leg injury.
He was hurt on a third quarter, inside running play by Miami running back Sammy Morris. In the roughly 35 minutes before Wilfork was injured, the Dolphins kicked two field goals. In the following 25 minutes, the Phins scored two touchdowns, kicked an extra point, and successfully converted a two-point attempt.
"He's extremely smart," said Mike Wright, who filled in for Wilfork while he was out. "His approach to the game, his knowledge for the game is pretty impressive. His preparation, it goes unseen. That's a credit to him, because he's a great player."
"Vince is an integral part of the defense," said Warren. "No question about it. He's the big fella that holds it down in the middle. Vince is Vince. There's no other Vince in here. As strong as he is and as explosive as he is, and with his mass and everything, I mean there's only one Vince."
Keep in mind that the guy talking about this "big fella," is a 6-foot-5-inch, 300 pound defensive lineman.
So what will the Patriots do if Wilfork can't play next week against the Texans?
"I don't think you want to change too much," said coach Bill Belichick on Monday. "When you start changing 10 people when you change one, it's hard to get much consistency. I'm not saying it's the same. Each player has his own playing style and techniques and so forth. I'm not saying there's no difference from one player to the next, but I think it's hard if you were to make the change with one player and then to tell everybody else, 'Well, you guys, we're all doing something different now because we've changed this player.' I don't really think that's in the best interest of your football team."
No word from Belichick as to Wilfork's condition, or whether he'll be able to play on Sunday, but the Pats defense is holding out hope.
"Any time a guy goes down, especially our nose guard - you know one of the rocks in the middle - It's tough," said defensive captain and fellow lineman Seymour. "He's one of the foundations of the defense, starting in the middle, so obviously we want him to play this weekend."
Notes:The Patriots did not practice today, but came in to view the game film from yesterday's loss to the Dolphins. They received DVDs of the players they'll be facing when they square off with the Houston Texans on Sunday. They'll return to practice on Wednesday, which is when the injury report will also be released, announcing the status of Wilfork and tight end Benjamin Watson, who also left the game with a leg injury in the third quarter.