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Things are going swimmingly for Dolphins

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / December 21, 2011
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The last time the Dolphins paid a late-season visit to Gillette Stadium, the Patriots treated it like a preseason game and the visitors were happy to oblige as the Dolphins laid down in a pathetic effort during a 38-7 loss Jan. 2.

Don’t expect that to happen again on Saturday.

The Dolphins are playing with a lot of confidence in winning five of their past seven games following an 0-7 start.

Their only losses were by 1 point at Dallas on Thanksgiving - a game the Dolphins were winning until the final seconds - and a 26-10 home loss to the Eagles Dec. 11. The Dolphins had to play without quarterback Matt Moore (concussion), left tackle Jake Long, and right guard Vernon Carey for much of the game.

The Dolphins are playing their second game with Todd Bowles as interim coach. Bowles was promoted after Tony Sparano was fired after the loss to the Eagles.

The Dolphins delivered Bowles a 30-23 victory in his first game last week at snowy Buffalo.

The Dolphins have had other changes since the Patriots last saw them in their 38-24 Week 1 victory.

A look at the Dolphins by position:

Quarterback: Moore has started nine games since Chad Henne was injured Oct. 2. Moore has surpassed Henne in every category, including completion percentage (60.8 percent), touchdown-to-interception ratio (12/6), and rating (88.7). Moore has been sacked 30 times however in 11 games played.

Running back: In the season opener, no one was sure what to expect from Reggie Bush, the former Saint. This time around, he is definitely a potent every-down back. Bush has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the previous three games, including 203 yards on 25 carries (8.1 average) against the Bills Sunday. Bush has also caught 41 passes on the season. Rookie Daniel Thomas hasn’t found his niche and has even had trouble in short yardage, which is supposed to be his strength at 6 feet and 230 pounds. The Dolphins will use the two-back set with rookie Charles Clay leading the way.

Receivers: The big matchup will be between Brandon Marshall and Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty. In the opener, Marshall caught seven passes for 139 yards. Marshall has a touchdown in three of the past four games but he has dropped several potential scoring passes. Davone Bess is still dangerous in the slot but he’s only caught more than two passes once in the past four games. Tight Anthony Fasano is an excellent blocker and had 82 yards against the Patriots. Brian Hartline hasn’t been as much of a threat as the other starting receiver but did have two standout catches against Buffalo. He had 47 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots.

Offensive line: Pro Bowl left tackle Long couldn’t play last week against the Bills because of a back injury, but he is expected to play Saturday. John Jerry did a solid job in his first start. Mike Pouncey continues to have a strong rookie campaign at center. The Patriots took advantage of both left guard Richie Incognito and right guard Vernon Carey in the opener. Right tackle Mark Columbo, a Bridgewater native, has been up and down this season.

Defensive line: The Dolphins have a very deep group with Jared Odrick, Paul Soliai, Randy Starks, Kendall Langford, Tony McDaniel, and Phillip Merling all contributing. Starks can be a real handful inside and helps set up the linebackers.

Linebackers: Outside backer Cameron Wake (eight sacks) is one of the best in the league and after a slow start in the opener had some opportunities against rookie right tackle Nate Solder in his first game action. Karlos Dansby can rush and cover inside, and Kevin Burnett can make some plays at the other spot. Veteran Jason Taylor is second on the team with six sacks.

Secondary: This unit has come a long way since Tom Brady abused it for a career high 517 yards and four touchdowns in the opener. The Dolphins have 11 interceptions in the past six games, including three against the Bills. Sean Smith and Vontae Davis are two very good cornerbacks. Strong safety Yeremiah Bell is always around the ball. Reshad Jones and Tyrone Culver have split time at free safety.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.

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