Pats coordinators give early look at Texans

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Pats coordinators give early look at Texans

Monday night is the game many have had highlighted on their schedule all season. So with the 11-1 Houston Texans coming to town next, it's time to look at what the Patriots' initial impressions are of the top seed in the AFC.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels knows it will be a challenge, and went out of his way to describe just how much of a threat defensive end J.J. Watt will be.

"This is an aggressive team that plays physical, tough defense," said McDaniels in a conference call on Monday. "I think they play fast. They play very hard up front, and do a lot of really good things with their front three or four . . . I don't think it's a stretch to say that this is going to be a big challenge for us. They have talented players at every level of their defense, and they're obviously very well coached. So we're going to have to do a great job of preparing for them this week.

"With J.J. Watt, obviously he's having a great year, and he's a great player no matter where they line him up. The fact that they move him a little bit inside and outside, we're going to have to have more than one guy ready to handle him and block him. It won't just fall to the guard or to the tackle. It could be anybody at times, based on the way they're playing. So we have to do a great job of trying to simulate his effort, his motor, some of the things he does to disrupt people in the running game, the passing game. And we have to make sure we're very mindful of taking care of the football, and not letting him get his hands on balls, because he's certainly creating a lot of disruptive opportunities for them defensively, by tipping the ball and batting the ball in the air. We've got a ton of respect for him."

On the other side of the football, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia expressed his concerns with Houston's "balanced" offensive attack.

"You're talking about a very balanced, very well-put-together offense," he said on Monday. "Between the run and the pass, and with a quarterback that is obviously a talented player that is really doing a phenomenal job running the system that they run.

"I think the biggest thing for us, obviously, is trying to figure out how to stop this running game, which is a critical part to what they do, along with passing abilities that they have. Their tight ends are extremely good, and they use all of them. There are very talented players there. Obviously, Andre Johnson is a phenomenal player for them outside . . . I think its a very balanced offense just from the standpoint that the quarterback will get the ball to the appropriate receiver based on coverage or based on read for that particular play so hes not always targeting one guy. Hes going to try to get the ball to the open receiver and thats really what makes it difficult in the passing game and then what we talked about with the running game with these two backs that have potential for big plays at any given time if they see any crack in the defense, they really have the ability to hurt you with that. The main point of emphasis is going to do a really good job with the fundamentals here and make sure that we play good, solid team defense and being able to stop the run and the passing game and hopefully handle the guys up front to the best of our ability and try to do a good job there."

Branch carries on with productive season after suspension is overturned

Branch carries on with productive season after suspension is overturned

FOXBORO – The first snap of the game for the Los Angeles Rams offense was an inside handoff to running back Todd Gurley. He was summarily stuffed by Patriots defensive lineman Alan Branch for a 1-yard loss.

It was happenstance, of course, that the Rams chose to run right at Branch. But it was no coincidence that the Branch was there to envelop Gurley like an upright sofa. The 6-foot-6, 350-pound, 31-year-old has been doing that all season. And on Saturday, word broke that he will be able to continue doing so, uninterrupted by NFL discipline.

PATRIOTS 26, RAMS 10

Branch, who was set to be suspended by the NFL for testing positive for marijuana, had his suspension rescinded by the league. The league did so without hearing the appeal Branch filed. Apparently, they decided they just got it wrong. The Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe reports that the traces of marijuana in Branch’s system were from a previously failed test and did not constitute a separate incident.

It’s been a strange season for Branch, a quirky, goofy, good-natured guy who dances during practices, stretching, on the sidelines and in between plays more than any other Patriot. That’s if any other Patriot actually dances. Branch was suspended by the team for a week during training camp. Reason unknown.

Regardless, his play’s been very good.

“This has definitely been the most productive year I’ve had so far,” he said. “Is it my best? When it comes to numbers it probably would be but there’s a lot of plays and a lot of games I could have done better. I’m kinda my own worst critic.”

Why has he been so productive?

“It’s a good defense for me,” he explained. “The playcalls and way we play goes to my strength to allow me to make plays and I’m making them.”

Branch has 40 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble this season. He had just that lone tackle on the stat sheet on Sunday, but he was a factor even if the stats don’t say so. During one first-half rush, Branch worked upfield with a bull rush, then spun back to his right to get in the face of Rams quarterback Jared Goff, forcing an incompletion.  

“That’s all reaction,” said Branch. “That was a hard day’s work on that play because I kept reacting and reacting and then I was right there. I just get out there and try to cause some ruckus.”

Meanwhile, the would-be suspension caused a ruckus for Branch prior to Saturday.

“I was upset because I knew I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “Having my name out there for my family and friends and my kids family and friends to see, you never want to have that on you. But I just wanted to go out there and take it one day at a time and play my best ball because I felt pretty confident that I was going to win the appeal or whatever was going to happen. I expected it because I didn’t see how it could go any other way when I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Asked if the league reached out to apologize for getting it wrong, Branch said, “I haven’t gotten anything yet. I haven’t read any emails yet, I haven’t opened my emails.”

Asked if he cares to hear an apology, Branch said, “I do care. I don’t know if it’s an apology or what (that he’s seeking) but the position I was put in was something else.”