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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — In the wake of an ESPN report that detailed friction between coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft, Belichick said Monday that it was “absolutely” his intention to return as coach of the New England Patriots in 2018.

Belichick’s answer in a conference call with reporters came after ESPN’s report said that “those interviewed describe a palpable sense in the building that this might be the last year together for this group.”

The ESPN report said Belichick received a mandate from Kraft to trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and that Belichick was “furious and demoralized, according to friends.”

Asked about the reported mandate, Belichick said Monday, “I haven’t read the article. I’ve already commented at length about that situation. Nothing has happened since then. So I don’t have anything to add to it.”

Belichick also responded to whether the characterization that he was “furious and demoralized” was accurate. “First of all, I don’t really know what you’re talking about; I haven’t read the article,” he said. “I don’t know what that refers to. Look, I know we’ve been through this before. I know you want to report on things that are inaccurate and unattributable. I’m not really interested in responding to all those random, and I would say in a lot of cases, baseless comments.”

The Patriots host the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs.

Later Monday, in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI, Belichick was asked how he would describe his relationship with Brady and Kraft.

“Great. Great. Eighteen years with Tom, and [19] with Robert. It’s been great,” Belichick said. “I appreciate everything Robert has done for me, the opportunity he’s given me, the support. And I’ve been pretty lucky to have Tom as the quarterback for 18 years, playing for 17 years. He’s a great player to coach, and he’s done a lot for this team, and he’s been a huge help to me personally. I have a great relationship with both Robert and Tom. And I would throw in there, since I was part of the article, I feel like I have a good professional relationship with Alex [Guerrero] too.”

Asked if Kraft has ever told him to make a trade he didn’t want to make, Belichick said: “We’ve never done that. We talk about things organizationally and make organizational decisions.”

Belichick was then asked about a few parts of the ESPN article.

When asked about the line that read, “Belichick, having always subscribed to the philosophy that it’s time to go once an owner gets involved in football decisions, left the impression with some friends that the current dynamic was unsustainable,” Belichick said on WEEI: “Once again, I’m not going to reply to all the individual; none of those statements are attributable to anybody. They’re all just anonymous quotes, and so I’m not even going to give the credibility to those anonymous quotes by replying to them.”

Asked about a different part of the story that noted Belichick “has even become good friends with [Roger] Goodell; the two men had a long and private meeting, which two sources told ESPN occurred during the off week after the regular season, when the commissioner visited Foxborough,” Belichick said on WEEI: “That is absolutely not true. The last time I saw the commissioner was before our game against Oakland in Mexico City. He was on the sideline, I saw him before the game, and we wished each other well. That’s the last time I saw him.”

Asked what his relationship is like with Goodell, Belichick said on WEEI, “Again, he’s the commissioner. Certainly, I’m a coach, he’s a commissioner. I think we know what that kind of relationship is; as far as saying hello to him and talking to him and that kind of thing. But seeing him last week? No.”

As for if he would characterize his relationship with Goodell as “good friends”, Belichick said on WEEI, “I don’t know what that means. I’m not going to reply to each individual anonymous quote. Somebody wants to put their name on something and talk about it? I would consider that. For every anonymous opinion and quote that’s out there, I don’t feel obligated to reply to all those, by any means.”

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Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis

Some people are mad. Others apathetic. A few supportive. We’ve even reached the burning jerseys in the snow and posting to social media portion of the program.

One aspect we can settle on in the wake of Marvin Lewis’ controversial return on a two-year contract: Everybody has an opinion.

The problem is, these opinions aren’t always based in fact. After 15 years, criticisms shifted both Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis into almost caricatures of themselves. It’s easy to lose sight of what complaints own merit and which are fallacy repeated into relevancy.

So, I asked those of you filling up my mentions to drop your primary gripe with Brown and Lewis on me, so I could find the most stated and dive into whether these are fact or fiction.

This came with the caveat of 0-7 in the playoffs not serving as a viable complaint because it’s the obvious, undeniable failure of the Lewis-Brown partnership.

Over the next five days, I take on the five most mentioned.

Today: Lewis struggles with halftime adjustments?

This showed up the most because it burns vividly into the recent memory of fans. The last two seasons have been filled with prominent games where the Bengals jumped out to leads at the break and were flattened in the second half.

If not for the shocking fourth-and-12 touchdown against Baltimore, the dramatic season finale would have looked like so many disappointments of a double-digit halftime evaporated into a day of what could have been.

Lewis debates the validity of “halftime adjustments.” With 12 minutes to enter the locker room and return to the field, only so many changes in plans can be discussed, to be certain.

“The ‘adjustment,’ that’s more journalism jargon than truth,” he said in a press conference to close the 2016 season.

Whether talking about actual adjustments or evaluating late-game performance, that’s merely semantics.

The truth lies in the numbers, in this case.

Let’s start with the last two seasons before pulling back to the big picture.

In the 14 games where the Bengals led at the half the last two years they went 9-5. The .643 winning percentage ranks 28th in the NFL over that span.

Since the Andy Dalton-A.J. Green Era commenced in 2011, the Bengals led at the half 59 times. They finished 44-14-1 in those games. That .754 record ranks 18th in the NFL over the span.

Now running all the way back to the beginning of the Marvin Lewis Era, the Bengals have gone 88-31-2 in games where they led at halftime. That .736 mark ranks 23rd in the NFL over that time.

Only once in Lewis’ 15 seasons have the Bengals finished in the top 10 of the NFL in protecting halftime leads. On the flip side, seven times they finished in the bottom 10.

No matter the era of which you break down, the Bengals have finished in the bottom half of the league or worse in holding on to a halftime lead.

The New England Patriots, unsurprisingly, lead the NFL in protecting leads over the span with a .913 winning percentage, going 147-14 when leading at the break since 2003.

Perhaps a better comparison would be the Bengals’ direct AFC North rival, Pittsburgh. The Steelers rank third in the NFL over the Lewis Era with a .865 winning percentage.

If the Bengals would have protected halftime leads at the same clip during the Lewis Era, they would have 17 more wins. That equates to more than one win per season and on more than one occasion serve as the difference between winning and losing the division or making the playoffs.

Speaking of the postseason, Cincinnati owned a halftime lead in two of the seven playoff losses. In 2005 against Pittsburgh and 2013 against the Chargers they led at the break by a field goal. They were outscored by a combined 37 points after halftime in those defeats.

Whether all this stems from “adjustments” or that’s truly journalism jargon for teams that don’t make enough plays in defining moments probably doesn’t matter in this case.

Call it what you want, the numbers back up the most common fan complaint.

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Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles faithful received Foles for Christmas. The fanbase couldn’t have asked for more since the Eagles secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with Monday’s 19-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders at Lincoln Financial Field

Monday’s performance showed the Eagles’ success doesn’t rely on the quarterback position. Carson Wentz may have been an early MVP favorite, but Philadelphia can compete with Nick Foles under center.

Doug Pederson’s squad has a chance because of its schematic design, offensive weapons and an impressive defensive front. Great quarterback play makes life easier for everyone. It’s not a necessity to secure a Lombardi Trophy, though

However, room for error is far smaller, and this became evident during Monday’s mistake-filled affair. The overall approach does need to change.

A week ago, many believed a Foles renaissance occurred when the sixth-year signal-caller completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns against a pitiful New York Giants defense. He didn’t fare nearly as well against an equally awful Raiders D. Foles connected on 50.0 percent of his passes for 163 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Safety Reggie Nelson also dropped a sure pick-six.

Foles is a downgrade from Wentz.

Duh.

The life of a backup quarterback is usually one of inconsistency and just trying to keep an offense afloat. Still, Foles has plenty of help to keep the Eagles flying high well into the playoffs.

What truly makes Philadelphia a dangerous squad moving forward is a coaching staff that is counted among the league’s best and the depth found at numerous positions.

This starts with the running attack and how it’s devised.

Philadelphia features three physical backs, and each can carry the load when called upon to do so. LeGarrette Blount leads the way with 729 rushing yards. Jay Ajayi is the team’s most explosive back, and his 6.4 yards per carry since joining the Eagles tops the league if he had enough carries to qualify. Rookie Corey Clement cemented his status among the rotation, and his four rushing touchdowns lead the group.

Pederson helps his backs by creating natural lanes and giving these punishing backs more room to run. A favorite play is known as “crunch.” Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh described the concept in the video below, courtesy of James Light Football:

The goal is to force defenders into false steps simply by reading their keys, thus creating better angles for the offensive linemen and runners.

This specific play pulls the frontside guard. The defensive tackle is taught to squeeze the gap after the blocker vacates. In doing so, he unwittingly creates more space for the oncoming wham block from the tight end.

Also, the linebacker behind the defensive tackle is reading the back through the guard. Thus, he’ll take a false step or two in the pulling guard’s direction.

Big backs often struggle with lateral movement. They’re downhill runners. These type of play calls create more space in a league where defenders close in the blink of an eye.

The play of the offensive line is crucial. Injuries have taken their toll, particularly on the left side with Halapoulivaati Vaitai at tackle and Chance Warmack at guard. But the staff does a good job playing to the group’s strengths.

Jason Kelce is arguably the game’s best center (and a Pro Bowl snub). His one-of-a-kind athleticism separates him from the rest, as seen below, per The Ringer’s Robert Mays:

Why should a coach try to bang its team’s proverbial head against the wall by trying to be physical and uproot defensive linemen when he can scheme toward his blockers’ strengths?

Kelce can move. Lane Johnson is fantastic in space. Warmack is at his best driving forward. Brandon Brooks is quite nimble at 335 pounds. Give Vaitai some help, and this group can accomplish special things.

A symbiotic relationship then forms between an offensive front and a team’s run game. Eventually, it allows the offense to expand its repertoire. For example, the Eagles scored their only offensive touchdown courtesy of an Ajayi screen pass, per the NFL:

While nothing should be taken away from Ajayi’s first career receiving touchdown, the blocks seen above are beautiful. Kelce raced downfield and led the way, while Warmack obliterated a defender.

Philadelphia claims a talented backfield, and it should be relied upon moving forward, but its success is derived from tremendous blocking schemes and an underrated front.

The passing game is a little more difficult to predict due to Foles’ inconsistency and the weak spot found at left tackle. However, the Eagles feature one of the game’s top mismatches in Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz.

Ertz ranks top three among tight ends in receptions (72) and yardage (800). He may not receive the same recognition as the New England Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski or Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, but the Eagles offense simply couldn’t operate without him.

The fifth-year target’s versatility makes him difficult to contain.

Pederson places Ertz in many different spots. Against Oakland, the 27-year-old tight end lined up on the wing, in the slot, in-line, and motioned across the formation. A defense must account for him at all times, even though it doesn’t know where he’s going to be once Philadelphia breaks the huddle.

The Eagles feature numerous other weapons in Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor. But they don’t present the opportunities an athletic 6’5″, 250-pound tight end does.

Even with the talent found on offense, Jim Schwartz’s defense will be Philadelphia’s calling card as it enters the postseason. Monday’s performance showed exactly why the Eagles are still dangerous even when Foles isn’t playing efficient football.

The unit forced five turnovers, sacked Derek Carr once and pressured the Raiders quarterback seven more times.

Sacks are a wonderful stat. Defenders love to bring an opposing quarterback to the ground and do their little dance. Pressure is the key, though. Pressure leads to big plays. Ronald Darby’s last-minute interception was a direct result of pressure applied by Vinny Curry, as seen below:

Curry is one of many defensive linemen the Eagles can bring. Ten-year veteran Chris Long isn’t even a starter, yet he finished with four quarterback hits, a sack and a forced fumble. First-round rookie Derek Barnett sealed the game with a fumble recovery and touchdown. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox is a monster at the point of attack and regularly controls the line of scrimmage. Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Graham can take over games, too.

Schwartz’s defensive front is filled with war daddies, and the pressure they create allows the entire defense to be more aggressive. Sometimes, the defensive backs can be too aggressive—which leads to plays like Amari Cooper’s 63-yard touchdown reception—but it’s all by design.

The defense can keep Philadelphia afloat. By attacking opposing signal-callers and making them uncomfortable, the advantage they may present over Foles can be neutralized.

The Minnesota Vikings aren’t overwhelming with Case Keenum behind center. The Los Angeles Rams are about to enter the playoffs for the first time since 2004 with an unproven second-year signal-caller. Cam Newton is the former 2015 MVP, but he’s also been sacked 33 times and intercepted 13 times. Matt Ryan hasn’t been nearly as effective with Steve Sarkisian calling the plays.

Really, the New Orleans Saints with Drew Brees is the only team the Eagles should be worried about while holding a home-field advantage.

A first-round bye will certainly help. Also, the weather may play a factor. An outdoor team like the Eagles holds a natural advantage against the three dome teams in the playoff mix. Keenum, for example, didn’t perform well against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Saturday. Goff hasn’t played a cold-weather game.

As of now, Foles and Co. will await the lowest-remaining seed out of the Wild Card Round.

Whatever the future holds, the Eagles don’t expect to do their best impression of Santa Claus with a one-and-done postseason appearance.