By Gregory Hunt

The New England Patriots hope to continue their undefeated ways when they face the Miami Dolphins Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. The game is the second of a three-game home stand that will end when the Patriots meet the Washington Redskins November 8.

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Season Record

The Dolphins currently hold a 3-3 record, putting them in third place in the AFC East, one game behind the 4-2 New York Jets and three games behind the 6-0 Patriots. After starting the season 1-3, the Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin and appointed tight ends coach Dan Campbell to be the interim head coach. Since then, the Dolphins have won two games in a row, including a 44-26 rout of the Houston Texans at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday. Miami went 8-8 last season and the team is hoping to finish above .500 for the first time since since 2008, when they won the division with an 11-5 record. That was also the last time the AFC East has been won by another team besides the Patriots.

Miami’s division rivalry with New England dates back to 1966, when the Dolphins were established as an expansion franchise in the American Football League. The Dolphins lead the all-time regular season series 51-45, although they trail the Patriots 1-2 in the playoffs. Last year, the teams split their regular season series with the Dolphins winning 33-20 at Sun Life Stadium in Week 1, and the Patriots winning 41-13 at Gillette Stadium in Week 15. Their most-recent playoff meeting was in 1997, when the Patriots defeated the Dolphins 17-3 at Foxboro Stadium in a Wild Card playoff.

Dolphins On Offense

Under the direction of Campbell, the Dolphins have quickly transformed themselves into a more physical and explosive team on offense. Offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James says that Campbell has made team practices shorter and more intense. That intensity has apparently carried over into the running game, which is now averaging an NFL-best 5.3 yards per carry.

“We’re not trying to do exotic stuff anymore,” said James. “We’re running inside zone, inside zone, doing things we know.”

No one is excused from this new-found intensity, not even backup quarterback Matt Moore, whose nose was broken when he took an elbow to the face during practice last week.

“We go so hard against each other at practice, by the time we get to game day, opponents don’t know what hit them,” said safety Michael Thomas. “We have some great guys that’s on our practice squad and do scout team for us that’s giving us great looks and making us better.”

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Despite this physical approach, starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill still has a little finesse in him. Against Houston, the Texas A&M product completed his first 18 passes and also became the first quarterback in 15 seasons to throw three touchdowns of 50 yards or more in a single game.

Dolphins On Defense

Miami’s defensive front has struggled against the run this season, giving up an average of 141 rushing yards per game going into Sunday. It gave up only 71 rushing yards against the Texans, but that can largely be attributed to Houston’s abandonment of its running game after it fell behind Miami 41-0 by halftime (Houston’s loss of running back Arian Foster to a torn Achilles’ tendon was probably also a factor).

Former Dolphins defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo took over as the team’s defensive coordinator after previous coordinator Kevin Coyle was let go shortly after Philbin’s firing. Anarumo immediately simplified Miami’s defensive scheme, and it appears to be working. The Dolphins have 10 sacks in two games under Anarumo.

Dolphins Players To Watch

Running back Lamar Miller is averaging a whopping 6.0 yards per rush, which is second in the NFL among running backs with at least 70 carries this season. Miller is also a threat in the passing game, and he piled up 236 total yards against the Texans even though he didn’t play in the second half.

Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was accused of ignoring defensive schemes earlier in the season, is now finally living up to the six-year, $114 million contract he signed as a free agent during the offseason. He didn’t have a single sack going into Week 7, but he made two against the Texans and he also deflected two passes.

Outlook

Although the Dolphins appear to play playing with more vigor, it should be pointed out that their two-game winning streak came against teams with a combined record of 3-10 (Miami defeated the Tennessee Titans 38-10 prior to its win over Houston). The Dolphins are desperately looking to make a statement win, but it seems unlikely that it will come at Gillette Stadium, where they haven’t beaten a Tom Brady-led Patriots team in nearly a decade. If New England’s run defense holds up, the Patriots should come out of that game with a 7-0 record.

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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.