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Eagle Eye: Have the Eagles turned into a winner?
Connor Barwin celebrates after sacking RG3 and forcing a fumble in the Eagles' win over the Redskins. (AP)
Connor Barwin is to Chip Kelly as Jon Runyan was to Andy Reid.
Kelly hopes this analogy ends up being accurate.
After spending his first four seasons with the Oilers turned Titans, Runyan at age 26 signed a six-year deal with the Eagles in 2000 and anchored the offensive line for nearly a decade.
After spending his first four seasons with the Texans -- the team that replaced the Oilers -- Barwin at age 26 signed a six-year deal with the Eagles and has been one of the anchors of the defense.
No word on whether Barwin has post-football political aspirations.
For now, Barwin is following in Runyan’s football footsteps as a difference-maker on the field and in the locker room. The Eagles desperately needed an experienced outside linebacker for their new 3-4 scheme and had to find one via free agency -- a route that had been a dead end in recent years and led to the downfall of the previous regime.
But Barwin has been the perfect fit.
"Connor Barwin wears more hats on our defense than anybody else out there,” defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “He's a weapon that we have that I don't think even opposing offenses realize how many different ways I use him, and he can grasp every one of them. So not only the fact that he's played in the 3-4 is helping us, but we're asking him to do a lot of different things, and he's embracing it. He always handles his job and does it in a very professional, all-out effort -- great tackler. Whatever you ask him to do, he gets it done."
Barwin and former teammate DeMeco Ryans have been the steadying presence while their teammates make the transition.
“I think it’s just the nature of the scheme. The more you can do, the more you can help, and that’s always been what I try to do,” Barwin said. “You get guys -- what they’re good at, you make them do, and we have certain guys that are really good at certain things, so Billy can put them in that situation, and I can kinda float around and kinda fill different situations.”
Barwin, according to the coaches’ stats, leads the team in tackles for a loss with six, is tied for the team lead with Vinnie Curry in sacks with four and is second in QB hurries with eight (Fletcher Cox has 19) and third in knockdowns with nine.
As a former basketball player -- he played two seasons in college as a walk-on at Cincinnati -- Barwin takes pride in that last stat. His ninth knockdown came Sunday when he set the tone for the defense by batting down Robert Griffin III's pass on Washington's first third down of the game.
“When I don’t get to the quarterback, I just put my hands up,” Barwin said “It was stressed in Houston where I came from, obviously, and with my basketball background, Wade Phillips always taught us to rush and see the quarterback. I see the release point, and I get my hands up, and I have pretty lengthy arms.”
Barwin’s reach also extends beyond the NovaCare Complex. In addition to his knowledge of the 3-4, he brought something else with him from Houston: weekly dinners with the front seven.
“When I got here, DeMeco was obviously part of it in Houston. The guys were eager. As soon as I brought it up, they were all about it. Everybody shows up every week. It's pretty cool," Barwin said.
"We don't do anything crazy. There's 15 guys in the front seven. One guy every week picks where he's taking everybody and the guy pays the bill. That's it."
"It's great," Curry said. "It's fun. We're up there laughing and joking. We talk about the game plan sometimes. Just having a ball.
"He's great. He's 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. … And look at us now. Think about everything -- guys out there making plays, everybody's happy, everybody's running around, compared to last year. See what I'm saying? It's fun to be a part of."
And now the Eagles’ D is too. The Eagles are allowing an average of 17.4 points in their last seven games and are the only team that hasn't allowed more than 21 points in that span (the Chiefs had given up less than 21 in nine straight before Sunday's loss at Denver).
“All you can ask out of yourself and as a unit is improve and be better than you were the last game, and we’ve done that,” Barwin said. “Now if we don’t improve next week, I won’t be happy, but I think through 11 games, I think we’ve improved every week, and that’s all you can ask.”