FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick went out of his way to compliment Alan Branch during a conference call on Tuesday. He was asked about young defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Vincent Valentine, and he brought up Branch's name.
"Branch has been by far our most consistent defensive tackle," Belichick said. "The other guys can shoot to get up to his level."
Nearing the end of his 10th season, Branch has been one of Belichick's most dependable defenders. He has started all 15 games, played in 60 percent of the snaps (a significant bump from the 40 percent he played last season), and recorded a career-high 29 run-stuffs, according to Pro Football Focus. He's also posted 1.5 sacks, two passes defensed, and a career-high 47 tackles.
The 6-foot-6, 325-pounder is one of the primary reasons the Patriots run defense is third in the league in rush yards allowed per game (89.5) and ninth in yards allowed per carry (3.9).
"I'm just going out there trying to have a good time," said Branch, who can often be seen on the field dancing to whatever music happens to be playing within earshot. "Just trying to play ball and stay consistent . . . I guess it's working out for me."
Though Branch is usually flanked by either Brown or Valentine -- two talented 22-year-old interior defensive linemen -- the nearly 32-year-old Branch has been the best of the bunch in 2016.
Asked if he's done anything differently this season to perform at the level he has, he shook his head.
"I'm playing the same ball," he said. "[Other teams] just so happen to be rolling 'em out in my direction, I guess. I'm able to make more plays and do well. Compliments to the scheme and everything. It's allowing me to play pretty good."
Against the Dolphins, Branch and the rest of the defense will face a difficult test in Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, who ran for 206 yards against the Bills last weekend. Ajayi is dealing with a shoulder injury at the moment, but Branch knows the Patriots will have to be prepared for the hard-charging runner with 1,213 yards rushing this season.
"He's a real tough runner," Branch said. "He runs really explosive. He has every trick in the bag when it comes to moves: spin, stiff-arm, jump-cut. He's a great back in this league and I expect a lot of things from him coming in the future. We're definitely going to have our hands full and going to have to be on our Ps and Qs . . . to make sure we get this guy down."