Zone Read: Eagles-Redskins, the Day After

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Oakland RaidersWhen asked to describe Connor Barwin, second-year player Vinny Curry pointed to the impact his teammate has made during the week.

“He’s definitely brought a lot of different things to this team,” Curry said. “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 linebackers and the outside linebackers. And 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. See what I’m saying? It’s just fun to be a part of.”

If having weekly dinners together led directly to defensive success, every unit in the league would be lining up for unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks. But there’s no denying that the Eagles had a toxic mix of personalities in the locker room last year, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.

Juan Castillo and Jim Washburn were fired in-season. Jason Babin was sent packing. And the defensive backs spent most weeks pointing fingers at one another.

“I think what we honestly lacked a lot on defense last year was leadership,” said center Jason Kelce, who played with Barwin at Cincinnati. “And I think that wasn’t DeMeco [Ryans’] fault. A lot of that was the defensive line and the DBs that we had in there were kind of very selfish groups, and that rubbed off on the ‘backers and everything else.

“I think the GMs and everybody did a good job of getting out the hazardous pieces, and they brought in better ones like Connor. He’s the complete opposite of that. He’s a team player, very much a guy that brings leadership to the board. He’s gonna call you out if you need to get called out and do it the right way. So now that we have him, DeMeco, and the secondary has been great so far in terms of the defense is just playing really together. And I think part of that is just there’s better guys out there.”

Nate Allen’s comments weren’t quite as strong, but he seemed to agree with the general tone.

“We’ve got a good group of guys over on the defensive side of the ball,” Allen said. “We play well together and we like each other. That’s a big thing. We enjoy playing together. We feed off each other. That’s big for us.”

Added Trent Cole: “Everybody has bought in. And I can tell everybody’s bought in from the beginning. And that’s what it takes.”

With the clock ticking down to zero in the first quarter and the Eagles’ offense driving, Barwin made his way onto the field and delivered a series of high-fives, fist-pounds and helmet-smacks. He brings constant energy and gets his teammates fired up – whether it’s on the practice fields at the NovaCare Complex or at the Linc on Sundays.

“That’s just who I am on gamedays,” Barwin said. “I just enjoy playing, and the offense was playing awesome so I was happy for those guys. I think somebody being positive always helps everybody else, so I just try to be as positive as I can.”

Barwin’s signing in the offseason made sense for the Eagles on several different levels. The team was transitioning to a 3-4 and needed an outside linebacker who could rush the passer, drop back into coverage and effectively play the run. Barwin notched his fourth sack of the season on Sunday, avoiding Roy Helu’s block before leveling an unsuspecting Robert Griffin III in the red zone in the first half. The ball popped loose, Barwin knocked Griffin’s helmet off, and the Eagles had their first takeaway of the day.

“I think he’s a very underrated football player,” said Chip Kelly afterwards. “He’s extremely intelligent. He does a great job. He’s obviously played in a 3‑4 scheme before. He’s got a really good understanding. I think he’s helped everybody in the transition. I know Billy Davis really leans on him a lot. I think between Connor on the outside and DeMeco on the inside, I think you have two outstanding leaders. He comes to work every day. One of the hardest working guys out on the practice field in terms of training and his approach to it. He’s been a really big addition to us. I’m real excited we got him.”

Barwin has been one of the Eagles’ most consistent defenders this season. He manhandles opposing tight ends against the run on a weekly basis, is tied for the team lead in sacks and has knocked down nine passes.

He enjoyed his first four seasons in Houston, but Barwin is excited with how things have come together on his new squad.

“Just from seeing what’s going on there to what’s happening here, it just shows how important team is,” Barwin said. “I mean, that’s one hell of a talented team down there. We’ve got a lot of talent here, but I think we’re really playing together on both sides of the ball and special teams. And that’s why you see the results we’re having.”


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