The Detroit Lions new they had a draft steal when Brian Branch fell into the second round, and far enough into that round they could move up to get him at No. 45 overall. He didn't test well at the NFL Combine, but everything that matters about him screams "football player"--instincts, skills, etc.
Branch made a key play in the Lions' Week 1 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, a pick-six that turned the momentum. On Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, he was all over the field--11 total tackles, three tackles for loss, two pass breakups....a tone setter for a strong defensive effort in a 20-6 victory for Detroit.
On the Falcons' final offensive series of the game, Falcons running back Bijan Robinson caught a short pass and turned up field. Branch met him with a hard hit, and Robinson's helmet fell off.
If there was anything illegal about it, it was Robinson appearing to lower his head and use the crown of his helmet to deliver a blow (however slight it might have been). Branch's hit technique was pretty text book, with his head up, and the only reason he had any kind of helmet-to-helmet contact was due to Robinson lowering his head.
But such is life for a defensive player in today's NFL, and Branch drew a 15-yard penalty.
Brian Branch has perfect phrase to sum up how he set tone for Lions' defense on Sunday
Branch was asked about the offending play after the game. Via Pride of Detroit, he detailed it from the start.
"Zone coverage,” Branch said. “I had nobody coming until Bijan came into my zone and I was just licking my chops knowing that he didn’t see me coming and the quarterback still threw it.”
Then, when asked to share his thoughts on being flagged for the hit, Branch dropped a line that perfectly summed up the role he played for the Lions' defense on Sunday.
F-ck it,” Branch responded. “F-ck it. I’d rather show him that I’m not scared to tackle him, and I’ll take the flag, to be honest.
If the game had been in any kind of doubt at that point, or if he had been injured after delivering the hit on Robinson, Branch's penalty would be looked back on as not very smart. But no-harm, no-foul here, and the rookie took one last opportunity to show the Falcons who was boss on this particular day.