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Bill Belichick explains the defensive tackle rotation with Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, and Vincent Valentine

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The Patriots head coach has a simple system for the defensive line.

New England Patriots sophomore DT Malcom Brown has been one of the better run-stuffing defensive tackles since he entered the league. 2016 has been no different, although he hasn’t taken as big of a leap as many projected, as Brown has settled in as the Patriots #2 defensive tackle next to veteran DT Alan Branch, and ahead of rookie DT Vincent Valentine.

“Those three players have kind of been a three-for-two rotation,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on Monday. “Branch has played the most and Malcom’s played the second most and Vincent’s played the least. Part of that was the games that he missed, but he would’ve probably had the least number of plays anyways. I’d say they all play a significant number of plays. It’s not like they’re in there for two plays. They all contribute.

“We’ve had certainly good plays and good results with any of the combination of the two of them in the game. There have been on a few very rare occasions all three of them in the game at the same time. There are some occasions where there’s only one of them in the game. For the most part two of those three guys are on the field. I’d say we’ve had in the same range of success or not success with all combinations. We’re confident in whoever’s out there.”

Branch leads the defensive tackles with 626 defensive snaps on the year, in addition to 153 on special teams. Combine both snap numbers and Branch has played the 5th most snaps of any defender on the Patriots, behind the starting secondary of Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Malcolm Butler, and Logan Ryan.

Brown is just a hair behind Branch with 596 defensive snaps and 65 on special teams. If not for his week 16 benching for being late to a team meeting, Brown would have likely matched Branch for defensive snaps. Belichick stated that he doesn’t have a snap target for the starting defensive tackles- just a percentage range.

“The number of plays is really a function of how many plays [the other team] run[s], so we have some say in that but we don’t really control that,” Belichick said. “But I would say from a percentage basis that [Brown’s] kind of in the same range for the most part every week. Somewhere in that, I don’t know, 40 to 60 percent range. Maybe a couple a little higher, or a couple a little lower but that’s basically where it is.”

Branch and Brown have consistently played around 60% of the defensive snaps over the course of the year. Valentine has played 288 defensive snaps and 47 special teams snaps and has hovered around 30% of the defensive snaps for his rookie season.

The defensive tackles primarily play in duos on running downs and they come off the field in favor of Trey Flowers on the interior for passing downs. The Patriots ranked 4th in the league in run defense DVOA over the course of the season, so the strategy worked.

The Patriots will have an interesting decision to make in 2017 and I think it might be beneficial to boost Valentine’s snaps or add a fourth defensive tackle to the rotation in 2017, like rookie DT Woodrow Hamilton, to reduce the snap count on the 32-year-old Branch.