Joint Press Conference Illustrates the Very Real Issues between Temple, Villanova

Joint Press Conference Illustrates the Very Real Issues between Temple, Villanova

As former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue once told Big East commissioner John Marinatto: "Rivalries are what people really want to see."

It may have only been a press conference where representatives from Temple and Villanova gathered to say nice things about each other, but their past, present and future rivalry was on full display Wednesday night. And in that sense, even though the final announcement was as public as possible, one could get the sense in watching that Temple's addition to the Big East was something of a series of "diner deals" from the start (don't worry, we'll explain later).

First, the basics. Temple has accepted an all-sports invitation to join the Big East. Owls football will begin conference play next season, while all other sports will join in the 2013-2014 academic year. As part of the invitation from the Big East to Temple, the conference will be footing the bill for half of Temple's $6 million exit fee from the Mid-Atlantic conference and providing an interest-free loan to the university for the remaining $3 million, according to CSNPhilly.com contributor Michael Bradley.

Now, the juicy parts. The Chairman of the TU Board of Trustees' Athletic Committee, Lewis Katz, said on Wednesday night that "Everything you've heard about Temple and Villanova is accurate." We fully believe that.

It was reported in the fall of 2011, when the Temple-to-the-Big-East reports were first heating up, that Villanova stood strongly opposed to the Owls joining the Big East. It was even alleged that Villanova used its influence to block the Owls from joining the conference as part of its initial expansion that welcomed Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, Memphis, Central Florida and Southern Methodist.

Perhaps that's why the conference felt it important to include Villanova president Fr. Peter Donahue in the Wednesday evening press conference and to make it clear that it was Villanova who made the motion (seconded by Rick Pitino's Louisville) to admit Temple. From there, a press conference meant to announce Temple's addition began like a public address about the state of Villanova athletics, specifically football. 

John Marinatto opened the proceedings by thanking Villanova for "taking the lead" in the conference's expansion talks and for its cooperation in overcoming any potential conflicts -- conflicts related to Temple University. Despite Donahue's words that the expansion was "good for the Big East, Villanova and Temple," those conflicts run deep enough that Marinatto would later announce the conference's decision to hire an outside consultant to identify how both institutions will "maintain their unique identities" while simultaneously receiving the full benefits of their membership in a shared market. 

First off, we give a legitimate hat tip to the Big East. Their inclusion of Donahue in the press conference was a fantastic way to promote the public image that all three entities -- Temple, Villanova and the Big East -- are all working in harmony and are pleased to be together. We were pleasantly surprised by the late-breaking news that 'Nova would be represented at the press conference and were impressed that the conference's public relations arm had the foresight to put representatives from both schools in the same room as quickly as possible.

That said, the carry-over of the negative publicity from the fall was in no way invalidated by the shared stage. If anything, it now seems legitimized by the very fact that Donahue was there, as those reports, regardless of their accuracy or inaccuracy, necessitated his presence.

On the one hand, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Villanova voicing an opposition to sharing a market with Temple. They, the Villanova Board of Directors, have very real economic concerns regarding the move and have no reason to be excited by the addition of Temple for reasons other than how such a move might ultimately benefit the Wildcat athletic program. Be clear, that is the job of the Villanova board and athletic department: to do what is best for Villanova University. Their concerns are not for the advancement of Temple.

On the other hand, Wednesday night's press conference gave off a certain "we (Villanova) were brought to this kicking and screaming and held out for as long as humanly possible" vibe that felt awkwardly and uncomfortably distracting. 

To return to Katz's statement about "everything you've heard" being "accurate," it's tough to tell what he really meant. Presumably, he meant that Donahue and Marinatto's comments about Villanova's cooperation were true (Donahue even told a lengthy anecdote and a joint storm-water sustainability project conducted by the engineering departments of Temple and Villanova to illustrate how the schools have worked together in the past.). But it was Katz's first statement that was in many ways the most revealing, and that worked to color all of his comments moving forward, when he thanked Villanova and the conference with a smile for their acceptance after taking "all the time they needed."

What Villanova received in taking that time was a "vote of confidence" and a financial commitment from the conference to further explore Villanova's potential FBS expansion. What exactly that means -- who knows? To borrow from an oft-used colloquialism: "you give a little, and you get a little."  

And it's tough to say what specifically Villanova "got." Marinatto and Donahue both denied that Villanova received any sort of monetary compensation for welcoming an institution just 12 miles from their own campus; and though Marinatto did say the Big East would ultimately look for a 14th football-playing partner once the conference signs a new television deal, he made mention that it would be the conference's preference to find a Western partner to begin to alleviate some of the travel difficulties of their new non-Eastern members.

In the sense that Villanova "gave," it doesn't seem it had much of an option. In short, the Big East needed Temple. The conference had an immediate scheduling hole to fill after West Virginia opted to pay $20 million dollars to exit early and Temple was one of most viable football programs left on the market.

Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw was quick to quell talk that the move was strictly about filling an immediate need for the Big East, citing what Temple brings to the conference, like it's 160,000 alumni who live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. We'll add that the school brings a renewed commitment to a resurgent football program and a basketball program that has been ranked in the Top 25 in the nation the past three seasons and is about to make it's fifth-consecutive Atlantic 10 tournament. Temple basketball will by no means replace a Pitt, Syracuse or West Virginia, but will strongly supplement the remaining basketball schools and add an increased viability moving forward. If that last bit about the "increased viability" is in some way unbelievable, then just check with Rick Pitino, who has been publicly campaigning for the Big East's addition of Temple for those very same reasons for months and consider why any coach would be that vocal about such a specific candidate for expansion. Temple, in a number of different ways, is good for the conference.

In that same vein, consider why Villanova was so reportedly opposed. It isn't just a matter of picking one football program over another. Nor is it only a matter of one school previously having a monopoly on home games versus schools like Connecticut and Georgetown. It's also about the success of the individual programs on the court and/or field. Temple just completed construction on a brand new state-of-the-art basketball practice facility as part of an ongoing $58 million renovation of Pearson and McGonigle Halls. They are in the process of a $9 million expansion of their on-campus Edberg-Olson football complex. Before, Villanova could poach mutually-desired basketball recruits by dangling the bright lights and big stages of the Big East relative to the Atlantic 10. But now, with both schools sharing the same conference schedule, and Temple making these improvements to its own facilities, recruiting will be conducted on an even playing field. The advantage could even swing in Temple's favor.

With all that mind, we shouldn't downplay the aforementioned monopoly of Big East home games, as it is one of the key reasons the conference will be forced to hire an outside consultant to ensure these schools cohabitate. Following the litany of opening statements, a question was posed to the entire panel about Temple potentially using the Wells Fargo Center for more of its basketball home games, as it did with Duke earlier this season and as Villanova does for multiple home games every season. Katz responded that Temple was quite fond of both the Liacouras Center and Wells Fargo Center and would be interested in using the latter more often. It should come as little surprise that commissioner Marinatto then immediately lauded then Liacouras Center and reiterated multiple times that the conference will do its best to stick with the set practices both the schools and their now-shared conference have previously exercised.

To translate: both of these schools will want the largest gates possible and it is going to be difficult to come to an agreement about whether only one or both gets to play their biggest games in a 20,000-seat arena, and it, like a whole host of other issues, could become a point of contention. 

After all, that's why they hired a consultant. And in a sense, that's all you need to know. There are very real conflicts between Temple and Villanova that made their move to the Big East all the more complicated and will continue to present difficulties moving forward. But once those difficulties are ironed out (or even before), there is little denying that Temple brings with it qualities that benefit the Big East, benefits strong enough that Villanova accepted this deal in the broader interests of its conference, even if those qualities conflict with the school's narrower self-interest.

Now, before we close, a brief story as told by Bradshaw. The Temple AD revealed Wednesday that he first met Marinatto in a diner on the New Jersey-New York border 16 months ago, prior to former attending a Temple game at Army and the latter a contest at Rutgers. It was there the two first shared their mutual interest in one another. They met in such a clandestine location, as Bradshaw admitted, for the obvious reason that it wouldn't draw much attention. Such a start to this renewed relationship now seems fitting. From an initial meeting at an off-the-beaten-path diner to the alleged behind-closed-doors opposition from, and eventual cojoling of, Villanova, this partnership seems more or less, as we said at the outset, like a series of a diner deals that have brought together three simultaneously willing and unwilling partners.

There were problems before the deal, there were problems during the deal, and there will no doubt be problems after the deal -- so God Bless whomever inherits that consulting job.

Temple and Villanova played nice Wednesday night. It was the only thing they could do, the only decision that made sense and the only decision that will make sense in the future. Temple is back in the Big East, meaning the three partners who took the stage on Wednesday -- the two schools and their shared conference --  will have to continue to act like friends. Whether or not that's really the case is no longer relevant, because their now-common interests mean they need each other.

Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews eager to return after missing first-ever game

Jordan Matthews experienced something new on Sunday. Something he hoped he’d never have to experience. 

He was relegated to spectator.  

After never missing a game dating back to little league – through high school, college, and into his third season in the NFL – a right ankle injury kept him out of Sunday’s 32-14 loss in Cincinnati. 

“It’s definitely not fun,” Matthews said. “But it’s one of those things where I try not to dwell on it or be like ‘woe is me.’ There’s people going through way worse things in America than me missing a football game.”

The Eagles certainly could have used Matthews on Sunday. But they should get him back this weekend when the Birds host Washington for a 1 p.m. kickoff at the Linc. Along with Ryan Mathews and Dorial Green-Beckham, Matthews is listed as questionable. 

But he seems confident he’ll be good to go. 

“I think one game is definitely going to be enough for me,” Matthews said. “I’m definitely going to try to get back out there Sunday.” 

On Friday, during his first media availability in two weeks, Matthews said he chose to find the positives in his absence from Sunday’s game. Namely that Paul Turner and Trey Burton got some extra reps. 

Burton had five catches for 53 yards and Turner, in just his second NFL game, had six catches for 80 yards. 

“I try to see the positives,” Matthews said. “I liked seeing what PT was able to go out there and do. I was happy for him and his first live-game action, being able to go out there and make plays. I was also proud of Trey. His role got to expand with me being out and I think he played extremely well. He got to show what he can do and show how he can help this team. We just have to continue to utilize him moving forward. There’s always a positive in it. 

“We might not see it now, in a loss, but just think, some of those guys are going to be weapons for us in the future. And we saw they can go out and perform well without me in there, so I think it’s going to end up being a positive. But I definitely can’t wait to get back out there.”

Earlier in the week, head coach Doug Pederson said that even with Matthews’ returning, the team would still try to get Turner involved. Since the team sees Turner primarily as a slot receiver, that means Matthews could see time outside this weekend. There’s an even better chance when taking Green-Beckham’s injury into account. 

Before the season, Pederson talked a lot about wanting to play Matthews both inside and outside, but this season, Matthews has been in the slot for 74 percent of his snaps. Forty-four of his 57 catches have come from the slot too. 

On the play where Matthews hurt his ankle against the Packers, he was actually lined up outside and caught a back-shoulder throw from Wentz. 

“I was actually joking with Carson,” Matthews said, “I was like ‘bro, the reason I got hurt was because our back shoulder was better than Jordy [Nelson] and Aaron [Rodgers’]. So it didn’t mesh well with the universe. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way on Monday night for everybody to see, so the football gods took my ankle. So it’s all good. … That’s a joke.”

Matthews, despite being in his third season, is clearly one of the Eagles’ leaders on offense, especially in a very young receivers room. He’s looking forward to playing Washington after he thinks they were the first team that “actually came out and beat” them earlier in the year. 

With four games left in the regular season, the Eagles’ playoff chances are extremely slim. But Matthews thinks it’s important for the team to finish strong, especially with rookie quarterback Carson Wentz. 

With Wentz, Matthews thinks the Eagles have already taken the first step toward building something special. 

“He’s the guy,” Matthews said. “He looks like the guy, he walks like the guy, he talks like it. And he goes out there and plays like it. It’s more we have to continue to ride around him and coach Pederson and be positive and go out there and produce.”

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles-Redskins scouting report: Secondary must stand up vs. Kirk Cousins

Eagles (5-7) vs. Redskins (6-5-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m. on Fox
Redskins favored by 2; over/under 47

When the Eagles went into FedEx Field in Week 6, they had an opportunity to leave 4-1 and in great position in the NFC East. Instead, what ensued was a stretch of three divisional losses in four weeks by a combined 18 points.

Two months later, the Eagles are out of the race at 5-7 while the 6-5-1 Redskins are still battling for an NFC wild-card spot. The 'Skins would be out of the playoffs if the season ended today — they currently hold the seventh spot in the NFC, behind the Bucs (7-5) but ahead of the Vikings and Packers (6-6).

This is obviously a crucial game for Washington, but the Eagles are just as desperate after losing by 11, 14 and 18 points the last three weeks. Don't underestimate the role desperation and a few weeks of embarrassment can have on a team's ability to bounce back. It was partly why I cautioned in these scouting reports the last two weeks not to count out either Green Bay or Cincinnati, teams that had more talent and stability than a few weeks of midseason losses indicated.

Cousins and Reed
The next time the Eagles limit Kirk Cousins will be the first time. In four games against them, he's completed 63 percent of his passes, averaged 336 yards, thrown 10 TDs and two interceptions and rushed for another score. Washington has averaged 31 points and won three of the four contests.

The Eagles' margin of error on defense is extremely small in this game. To win, they'll need a better effort against a Redskins' ground game that gashed them for 230 yards last time, they'll need to generate consistent pressure on Cousins and they'll need Jordan Reed to not be himself.

Reed, the NFC's most dangerous tight end, is questionable with a Grade 3 AC joint separation suffered on Thanksgiving. Reed was a warrior on Turkey Day, leaving the game in the second quarter, standing on the sideline in a sling, probably receiving a little (ahem) help at halftime, and then dominating in the second half in Dallas. Reed finished that game with 12 catches for 95 yards and two TDs, but was hurt badly enough to miss last week's game.

The Eagles were fortunate to avoid Reed in the season's earlier matchup. Fortunate because he destroyed them last December, catching nine passes for 129 yards and two TDs in a 14-point win. Washington uses its tight ends more than any offense in the league, and Reed is a mismatch even for an Eagles team that has allowed the fewest catches (31) and receiving yards (327) to tight ends. 

With Reed out in October, backup Vernon Davis burned the Eagles for two catches, 50 yards and a TD. But it sounds like Reed will play Sunday after telling reporters that his range of motion is back.

The issue in stopping Washington is the Eagles just don't have enough defensive backs to defend everything. It's why they need Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham to get consistent pressure and keep Cousins out of a rhythm. They haven't been able to do that. They had no sacks in Washington in Week 6 and have failed to sack Cousins in two of the last three meetings.

Without forcing Cousins to get off his spot and get the ball out quickly, the Eagles' secondary hasn't shown anything to inspire confidence they can stop DeSean Jackson, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon, Reed and Davis at the same time.

To make matters worse, this is the first week Washington's All-Pro left tackle, Trent Williams, is back from a four-game substance abuse suspension. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed just three sacks in his last eight games against the Eagles.

Which Wentz will show?
Last week was Carson Wentz's worst game as an NFL quarterback. He missed wide-open throws, threw three interceptions and could have thrown more and barely exceeded 300 yards despite throwing the ball 60 times. 

He didn't look like the guy we saw the first four games of the season, and quite frankly he hasn't looked like a top-20 QB since October. 

The lack of weapons and occasionally poor protection are major reasons why, but Wentz isn't void of blame — he's simply missed some makeable throws.

Against Washington back on Oct. 16, Wentz was just 11 of 22 for 179 yards as the Eagles lost the time of possession battle. The best days belonged to Ryan Mathews (9 carries, 60 yards) and Jordan Matthews (three catches, 75 yards). Both are questionable heading into this one. 

Wentz didn't throw a single pass at Josh Norman in the first meeting. At times, Norman has followed the opposing team's top receiver, but don't expect him to do so this Sunday. Norman has lined up on the left side 64 percent of the time this season and in the slot just nine percent. 

Slot matchup
Matthews has run 73 percent of his routes from the slot and should draw third-round pick Kendall Fuller. As long as Matthews is sufficiently recovered from his ankle injury, this should be a good matchup for the Eagles. 

Fuller has been beaten repeatedly this season, allowing 42 catches (on 53 targets) for 542 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterbacks have a 123.9 rating against him, third-worst among all slot corners. (Malcolm Jenkins is actually worst in this category with a 137.9 QB rating allowed in the slot.)

Fuller has also struggled to wrap receivers up after the catch, allowing an NFL-high 213 yards after the catch. Picking up yards after a reception is something the Eagles have struggled to do all year.

Run game
The Eagles were shutting running backs down until they played the Redskins in October. Since-demoted RB Matt Jones rushed for 135 yards, current starter Rob Kelley rushed for 59, and both had a run of 45-plus yards.

Cox, Barwin and LB Nigel Bradham had awful games that afternoon against the run. It also didn't help that the Eagles were credited with 12 missed tackles. 

Run-stuffer Bennie Logan left that game early with a groin injury and missed the next three weeks. Since returning, however, Logan hasn't been himself, struggling to rush the passer and stop the run.

The Kerrigan factor
The Eagles always have trouble containing Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan, who had three sacks in the first meeting. 

Kerrigan has been a force in 2016 with 44 QB hurries, which is three more than Kahlil Mack and second-most among outside linebackers to Von Miller.

Kerrigan has nine sacks in 11 career games against the Eagles, and Washington is 5-1 when he has at least one against them.

Prediction
Close game, better performance from Wentz and an awakening in the run game, but not enough defensive talent to shut down what Washington will try to do deep with Jackson and Crowder, over the middle with Reed and short with Garcon.

Redskins 31, Eagles 27