New England Patriots: Alan Branch’s return is key to slowing Derrick Henry

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04: Alan Branch
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 04: Alan Branch /

The New England Patriots will likely get big man Alan Branch back in the middle of their defense for the Divisional game against the Tennessee Titans.

Alan Branch has been sidelined with a knee injury, but all signs are pointing towards his return on Saturday night when the New England Patriots host the Tennessee Titans in an AFC Divisional Round playoff game.

Branch, 6’6″ 325lbs, is a run-stuffer, and New England will benefit greatly from his return. Much like Vince Wilfork when he was with the Patriots, Branch is asked to simply stop the run up the middle of the field. He does so almost perfectly.

In 12 games this season so far (with 6 starts), Alan Branch has recorded 12 tackles. Those numbers aren’t crazy, but it’s his presence alone that makes a difference. During the Patriots run in the playoffs last season, Branch had 4 solo tackles and 10 assisted tackles. He also came up with half a sack in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons.

Now, Branch is back in time to help the Patriots corral Titans running back Derrick Henry. Tennessee will be without DeMarco Murray, so the sole focus of the defense is on Henry. He’s the Titans best weapon on offense, as his running ability is what sets up their passing game. If New England can find a way to contain Henry, this game will be a blowout. In the regular season, Henry split time with Murray but was still the teams rushing leader with 744 yards and 5 touchdowns. Murray followed with 659 yards and 6 touchdowns. In Tennessee’s playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend, Derrick Henry was the lone back. He ran over KC for 156 yards and a touchdown. New England cannot afford to give him that many yards on Saturday. Alan Branch will be asked to step in and shut him down.

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New England and Branch, will likely aim to play off of Henry’s tendencies. He routinely runs to the left behind Taylor Lewan, rather than to the right side. Last week, Henry ran to the left 21 times for 141 yards and a touchdown. He ran to the right just twice for 18 yards.

Now, Branch and fans are playing the waiting game to see if he will be active for Saturday’s game. He says he feels good, but he knows it’s not his decision whether he plays or not.

"“I feel like I’m good to go,” Branch said Wednesday. “If if I’m out there or not, that’s not my call. We’ll see.”"

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The Patriots and Titans game will kick off this Saturday night at 8:15 PM on CBS. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will be on the broadcast once again as the AFC Divisional Round gets underway. New England is a 13.5-point favorite in this one, and they could win by even more. Still, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves and let’s focus on Tennessee.