Branch a reliable target in playoffs


Branch a reliable target in playoffs

FOXBORO -- Deion Branch returned to New England in a trade last season. He was used to winning Super Bowls with the Patriots, not losing in their first game of the playoffs to a divisional rival.

But that's what happened last year. Branch has said in recent weeks -- and reiterated it again on Thursday -- that previous playoff experiences mean a whole lot of nothing entering Saturday night's playoff game with the Denver Broncos.

But listening to Bill Belichick praise Branch's game on Thursday, it sounds like the Patriots coach is looking for those past experiences to pay off against a solid Broncos defense.

"Deion's a very instinctive receiver," said Belichick. "He was in college, at Louisville, and then from day one when he got here. He's smart. He learns very quickly. He just understands the receiver concepts and techniques."

Belichick pointed out that timing is everything in the passing game. And they'll need plenty of it on Saturday.

"He almost always does what the quarterback would expect him to do," said Belichick. "He just has a good instinct and a good feel for what the right decision to make is, based on what he's seeing, so that he can help the quarterback, where he can be in the spot where the quarterback wants him to be, when he wants him to be there.

"What you really want is the receiver to come open as the quarterback is ready to deliver the ball. And Deion has a great sense for that timing . . . Those are the kind of things that Deion does, that, I don't want to say you can't coach, but it's hard to coach those things, because everyone's a little bit different."

Belichick continued with the praise of Branch, and compared his instincts to that of Troy Brown, Kevin Faulk and Randy Moss.

"He almost always does the right thing, just like Troy Brown, just like Kevin Faulk," said Belichick. "You can run a play, you can practice it all year, and something can come up in the season, that, it's just not the way you talked about it. It's not the way you've practiced it. And then, what they player does, you look at it and say, 'That was the right thing to do.' And the quarterback saw it that way, and the receiver did it that way.

"Branch is great at that. He's great at that. As was Troy Brown, as was Kevin Faulk, and Randy Moss. Those guys, they just knew where they could go, how long they had to get there, how to do it."

Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots


Not a lot of talk about Cannon this season, and that's a good thing for Patriots

Marcus Cannon has had his run as a piñata. The Patriots offensive lineman is a frequent target when things go wrong up front and, usually, he’s deserved it.

A bit of anecdotal evidence? 

Sunday, I tweeted that every time I watched Cannon, he was making another good play.

On cue, about 10 tweets came back at me with variations of “Keep watching him!”

I asked Bill Belichick if he agreed with the layman’s assessment that Cannon’s playing well.

“I think Marcus [Cannon] has done a good job for us for quite a while,” Belichick began. “I mean he’s stepped in for Sebastian [Vollmer] and then last year when Nate [Solder] was out [and he substituted] for Nate. He has played a lot of good football for us.

“We extended our agreement with him off of his rookie contract which I think speaks to the fact that we want him on the team and we like what he’s doing and so forth and he’s continued to I’d say show with his performance [that he has] validated the confidence that we have in him.”

Cannon’s ending to 2015 – a poor performance (along with the rest of the line) against the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game was followed by a performance against the Cardinals that was marred by late-game holding calls.

But with Sebastian Vollmer injured (and still injured) it was sink or swim with Cannon which had plenty of people rolling their eyes.

But – as I said – every time I see Cannon, he’s either holding off a defensive end in pass protection, steamrolling downfield in the running game or making really athletic second-level or cut blocks in the screen game.

“Like every player, as they gain more experience they do get better,” said Belichick. “I think our offensive line’s certainly improved over the course of the year and playing with more consistency than we did last year. But there’s always room for improvement and the continuity that we’ve had there since (right guard) Shaq [Mason] has gotten in the last few weeks – we had Shaq over on the right side a little bit at the end of the season last year and then this year most all of the year except when Shaq was out for a few weeks there at the end of training camp and the start of the season – but our overall consistency and communication on the offensive line has been better because we’ve had more continuity there so that helps everybody.”

It can’t hurt that the lineman whisperer, Dante Scranecchia, has returned to coach the group. Cannon’s conditioning and physique looks better. He just appears more athletic and explosive. And he’s seemed more relaxed in the limited time the media’s in the locker room.

All off that added up equals nobody really talking about Marcus Cannon.
“Like any lineman, the less you call his name probably the better he’s doing,” said Belichick. “It’s probably a good thing when you guys don’t talk about him. Then that probably means they’re not doing something too noticeably wrong, right?”