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Why Patriots DL Alan Branch is the player everyone should be talking about

Alan Branch has been the Patriots' most consistent defensive tackle this season. Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sunday's AFC Championship Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots offers up a classic something-has-to-give situation, highlighting why defensive tackle Alan Branch is such a key player for coach Bill Belichick's club.

Consider these two things:

  • Including postseason, no individual has rushed for 90 or more yards against the Patriots in their past 24 games. The last was Denver’s C.J. Anderson with 113 yards in Week 12 last season.

  • Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell has rushed for 90 or more yards in each of his past eight games, which includes a 236-yard effort against the Buffalo Bills.

When it comes to the Patriots' sturdy run defense, the 10-year veteran Branch is a centerpiece. At 6-feet-6 and 350 pounds, he plays with power, has good length and was cited by linebacker Dont'a Hightower as playing at a Pro Bowl level during the season. Furthermore, Belichick previously noted that Branch, by far, has been the team's most consistent defensive tackle this year.

So as the analysis of the AFC title game shifts into a higher gear this week, the fundamentally sound Branch-led run defense against the patient-yet-powerful Bell-led rushing attack is an obvious top area to highlight.

"Alan has done a great job for us of trying to improve, which I think he has done all season," defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. "He has really tried to play with some good technique, and he's a big guy, long guy and really understands the run game week in and week out because it is different. He really does a good job with all that stuff, and he allows us to put him in some different positions and move him around."