Barwin, defense play big for Birds

A ringleader on the Eagles defense, linebacker Connor Barwin forced a fumble with a sack of Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III.
A ringleader on the Eagles defense, linebacker Connor Barwin forced a fumble with a sack of Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 19, 2013

 Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin's versatility and veteran savvy have contributed to a defense that has shown steady progression the last seven weeks.

Barwin set the tone, especially in the first half during Sunday's 24-16 win over the Washington Redskins that snapped the Eagles' 10-game losing streak at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Eagles led by 17-0 at halftime, and Barwin had five tackles and the key defensive play of the opening two quarters, a sack of quarterback Robert Griffin III that forced a fumble. The Redskins had second and goal from the Eagles' 5, and teammate Fletcher Cox recovered the fumble to thwart Washington's best first-half drive.

Whether it's rushing the quarterback, dropping back in coverage, or defending the running game, Barwin gives the Eagles almost unrivaled versatility.

"Connor Barwin wears more hats on our defense than anybody out there," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "He is a weapon out there, and I don't think even the opposing offenses realize how many different ways I can use him - and he grasps every one of them."

Since a 52-20 loss at Denver on Sept. 29, the Eagles have not allowed more than 21 points in any of their seven games. Not coincidentally, the Eagles are 5-2 in those games, and the 6-foot-4, 264-pound Barwin has been one of the defensive leaders.

Barwin said he has been pleased with the defense after some rocky early-season moments.

"You have to be," he said. "All you can ask out of yourself and for the unit is to improve and be better than you were last game."

Then he added a disclaimer.

"Now, if we don't improve next week I won't be happy."

Next week the Eagles have a bye, so the improvement will have to wait until Dec. 1 when the Eagles host the Arizona Cardinals.

Barwin takes pride in his versatility and understands the impact it has on the defense.

"We have guys who are really good at certain things so Billy [Davis] can put them in that situation and I can float around and fill different situations," Barwin said.

He's far from the only big-play performer on the unit. Cox, a second-year lineman, has come on strong after making the adjustment from a 4-3 to Davis' 3-4 defense.

Besides his fumble recovery, Cox helped save the game when the defense was sputtering in the fourth quarter. He forced an end-zone interception by Brandon Boykin with tremendous pressure on Griffin, who basically threw an air ball with 24 seconds left on third and 1 from the Eagles' 18.

"I knew a big play was coming," Cox said. "I stayed calm and got the pressure on him, and he threw the ball up and Boykin picked it off."

In addition, linebacker DeMeco Ryans enjoyed another solid game with a team-high seven tackles, and Trent Cole had two sacks after accumulating just one in the first 10 games.

"Sacks are going to come; I just want to make sure I do my job," Cole said.

Of course the Eagles defense was clearly on its heels in the fourth quarter, allowing 16 points and surviving the furious Redskins final drive until Boykin's interception.

Davis said the Eagles were trying to keep the Skins off balance in that last drive when Washington took over at its own 4-yard line with 3 minutes, 26 seconds left.

"We fell back a little bit, and either we were going to make a play or [Washington] was going to make a play," Davis said. "We stepped up and made it."

It's something that has happened frequently during the last seven games, with Barwin among the ringleaders and plenty of willing followers.


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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