Alan Branch Adds Crucial Depth and Ability To Bills’ Defensive Line

(Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Branch brings the versatility that new DC Mike Pettine has referred to this offseason. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

The Buffalo Bills brought in former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Alan Branch and didn’t let him get away, signing him to a one-year deal worth $3 million. Branch, a former second round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals finally caught on as a situational defensive tackle over the past two seasons with the Seattle Seahawks.

The 6’6” 325 pound defensive tackle is a mammoth on the interior defensive line and has experience playing in a “hybrid” defensive system ran by former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, now head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

While the Bills have two dominant defensive tackles in Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams, Branch adds key depth and versatility that will allow new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to operate a variety of defensive fronts.

Branch played 645 snaps last year with the Seahawks, seeing time at defensive tackle, nose tackle and even some defensive end, recording 29 tackles and two sacks.

Where Does Branch Fit?

Branch is an extremely versatile player, and despite his massive size, he is productive not only stuffing the run (he recorded 16 stops last year in that department) but can penetrate the pocket and pressure the quarterback. According to ProFootballFocus, Branch was on the field for just 301 passing downs, yet he generated 21 pressures, good for 29th out of 69 qualifying defensive tackles.

With Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus guaranteed as starters in any capacity going into the 2013 season, it will be interesting to see where Branch’s role will on the Bills’ defensive line.

When operating 4-3 looks, Branch would be a rotational defensive tackle that could perform in spot duty as a strongside defensive end in run situations.

When operating a 3-4 front, Branch would likely line up at nose tackle, where his strength at the point of attack would allow him to two-gap (occupy both the center and strong side guard) with Williams and Dareus at the three and five technique defensive end positions.

Mario Williams is the player this defense is built around and he has the ability to play defensive end in four-man fronts, while playing outside linebacker or defensive end in three-man fronts.

Branch’s Connection To Mike Pettine

Mike Pettine has constantly said that the 2013 Bills’ defense would be “multiple” meaning that the more versatility and depth throughout the front seven, the better the chances are the team will consistently win each down.

Branch’s ability against the run is unquestioned, as Branch graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 6th best overall defensive tackle/nose tackle overall in 2011 with a +19.5 overall grade (0.0 is average) and his +16.5 grade against the run was third in the National Football League, trailing only Broderick Bunkley and Sione Pouha.

Pouha was Pettine’s nose tackle during his time with the New York Jets, so the addition of Branch hints at the fact that the Bills’ defense will be very similar to that of the one he ran in New York.