Birds' D Benefits from Barwin's Leadership

It’s not easy writing an article about Connor Barwin, because every time you ask him a question about himself, he ends up talking about somebody else.

Ask him about his dominating, 3 ½-sack game last week against the Carolina Panthers, and the Eagles linebacker tells you how happy he is that defensive lineman Fletcher Cox finally got his first sack after coming close so many times.


Ask him about his leadership role on the Eagles defense, which became even more important when DeMeco Ryans was lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles, and he tells you about how well young linebackers Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho are playing as they fill in for Ryans.

Ask him about the stellar season he’s having, a season that will probably take him to the Pro Bowl, and he raves about the Eagles’ defensive system and how coordinator Bill Davis manages it.

“That’s just the way the man is,’’ Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham said. “He’s all about the team and doing whatever it takes to win the game. It’s never about Connor Barwin – it’s always about the Philadelphia Eagles.

“Plus, he’s a really good player,’’ Graham added with a smile. “That’s why he’s such a good leader and is respected so much in this locker room — he talks the talk and then he walks the walk.’’

He also runs pretty well, a big reason Barwin has 10 ½ sacks, the second most in the NFL and the most ever by an Eagles linebacker in a season – and he still has six games to play, starting with Sunday’s showdown against the Packers in Green Bay. Typically, Barwin deflects any praise headed his way, even while acknowledging that, yes, he’s having a pretty good season, maybe even the best of his career.

“I think I’m a better player than I was last year,’’ he said. “I think we have to improve every year, but I think my numbers are a bigger result of what we’re doing as a group up front. I’ve had an opportunity to get some more numbers, but it’s more about what we’re doing as a whole up front.”

And Barwin does more than one thing for the Eagles 3-4 defense, which he likes and the Eagles need. That also makes it much more difficult for enemy offenses to find him and then block him.

“His versatility is a huge plus for us, his ability to play multiple positions,’’ Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “We can line him up at inside linebacker in passing downs. We line him up at outside linebacker. We line him up at defensive end.’’

Barwin’s role as a wild card in the Eagles defense has allowed him to use his athleticism – he played basketball as well as football at the University of Cincinnati – and his intelligence to make plays and spark the defense. That’s something that jumped out at Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy this week as he looked at Eagles game tapes.

“The way they’re built up front, he’s an excellent fit for what they’re doing,’’ McCarthy said.

And that’s why Barwin is putting together the best season of his six-year career, even better than his 2011 season in Houston when he had 11 ½ sacks for a 10-6 Texans team that won AFC South.

“It’s really a by-product of what we do on defense, because that gives me the opportunity to make plays,’’ Barwin said. “We really do have a team concept here, and the guys up front sacrifice so that guys like me can make plays. I couldn’t do what I do if they didn’t do what they do. So, it all has to work together, or it doesn’t work at all.’’

But it’s not just Barwin’s playmaking that impresses his teammates. They also respect his work ethic in practice, in the meeting room and in the games – especially in the games.

“When we see Connor out there flying around and getting [the quarterback], we feed off of that energy,’’ Graham said. “He’s definitely a great leader.’’

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