Connor Barwin came to Philadelphia as a free agent after spending the first four seasons of his NFL career with the Houston Texans. A veteran of the 3-4 defense, he immediately took on a leadership role and has been integral in the scheme transition and the unit's overall ascent over the last seven games. Barwin, 6-foot-4, 264, is a phenomenal athlete and has numerous responsibilities within the defense, from rushing the passer to dropping back in coverage.
Not many players can do everything that Barwin is asked to do, let alone at such a high level, according to defensive coordinator Bill Davis.
"Connor does a great job of setting the edge for us," Davis said. "We ask a lot of him. He wears a lot of different hats for us, he's got a lot of different roles. He takes them on and really just does a great job of handling his job and doing it consistently."
Barwin makes a number of really smart, fundamentally sound plays each game, whether it is sticking with his man in coverage or squaring up the ball carrier and making a solo tackle in the open field. He has also been adept at jumping up and swatting down passes, an art which his former teammate, J.J. Watt has mastered. Barwin added another to that total against the Redskins and now has nine passes defended for the season.
"I have to work on catching those tipped passes because that one came right down in my hands and I wasn't expecting it," Barwin said. "It was a big emphasis where I came from (Houston), and then I think with my basketball background (he played at the University of Cincinnati), that has something to do with it."
Barwin has also been a key contributor as a pass rusher, generating pressure off the edge and getting to the quarterback. On Sunday, that pass rush ability resulted in a huge, momentum-shifting play that helped keep Robert Griffin III and company off the scoreboard in the first half. The Redskins offense had found a rhythm and moved the ball 75 yards down the field, from their own 20 to the Eagles' 5. It was second down, and Griffin III dropped back to pass. Barwin dipped around the edge and blew by the offensive tackle, Tyler Polumbus, before rocking Griffin III with a thunderous hit just as he was winding up to throw.
The ball popped into the air and right into the waiting arms of defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Barwin's pressure off the edge on other occasions helped lead to multiple sacks by Trent Cole, as well, his fellow Cincinnati Bearcat, the first time Cole has done that in two years.
"It was good to get to the quarterback," Barwin said. "I was happy to see Trent get going a little bit, too."
The whole defense has seemed to take a cue from Barwin as it has come together. The technique and tackling have both been tremendous, and everyone is playing hard each snap. They feed off his energy and positivity.
"Barwin's a great guy and brings a lot of energy," Cole said. "He's key to our team and to our defense."
"He's great," said defensive end Vinny Curry. "He definitely brought a lot of different things to this team. He's a leader in so many different ways. He's all about team camaraderie. We all get together and do dinner every week, the front, the D-line, the inside linebacker and the outside linebackers. That's something he brought to the team and just look at us now, guys out there making plays, everybody's happy, everybody's jumping around. Compared to last year? It's fun to be a part of."
The defense has made incredible strides after a rough first month, and there is no question that Barwin has been at the forefront of the transformation. He is the Swiss Army Knife, the chameleon. In the Eagles 24-16 win over the Redskins on Saturday, Barwin showed off the breadth of his talents and demonstrated his value once again, finishing with six total tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass defended.
"It feels good," Barwin said of the win. "Going into the bye week, I think it was huge for us to get a win at home. So we'll come back a little bit healthier and ready to make a run."
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