Zone Read: Eagles-Panthers, the Day After

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher - USA Today

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher – USA Today

After Marcus Smith was drafted by the Eagles in the first round, but before he had ever participated in a practice at the NovaCare Complex, he received a message from Connor Barwin that gave him a good feeling about his new home.

“He texted me,” Smith recalled. “He texted me and was like, ‘We want to welcome you to the team. We can’t wait for you to be a part of what we’ve got going on.’ Ever since I came in, he took me under his wing and has been teaching me the ropes.”

Barwin has been one of the most valuable signings of the Chip Kelly era. When he first arrived, he helped organize team dinners for the defensive linemen and linebackers. Those are still going strong as the guys get together every Thursday night after practice.

For Fletcher Cox’s birthday, Barwin wheeled over a bike to surprise his teammate at his locker. He knew Travis Long would be sticking around Philadelphia during the offseason, so Barwin got him a bike too.

The 28-year-old’s value can be measured in a variety of ways. By all accounts, he’s the ultimate teammate. And in Billy Davis’ scheme, he’s asked to fulfill a variety of roles – some of which don’t produce numbers in the box score. But on Monday night, Barwin totaled 3.5 sacks and led a defensive charge that completely shut down Cam Newton and the Panthers.

“I think what we did tonight that we didn’t do last week was we rushed very disciplined,” Barwin said at his locker after the game. “Nobody was selfish up front, people didn’t get behind the quarterback, and Cam really didn’t have an escape route but to go east and west instead of north. So it was a great disciplined night from the pass-rush.

“We learned from last week what we did, or didn’t do against [Ryan Fitzpatrick]. And obviously, it’s Cam Newton, you know he can run. You know you have to be very disciplined. So it was really just an unselfish performance by everybody up front, especially the two guys inside.”

After one of Barwin’s sacks in the second half, he immediately ran over to thank Fletcher Cox, the guy who was responsible for the initial pressure on Newton.

“Fletcher got to Cam twice before I did, and Cam kind of got away,” Barwin explained. “If he doesn’t do that, I’m not getting there. So those guys up front, Vinny [Curry], Fletcher, whoever else was rushing inside at the three-techniques, did a phenomenal job of not allowing Cam to have an escape up the middle.

“Fletcher, I don’t know how many pressures he’s got, but he’s got as many as anybody on the team. If anybody understands how opportunistic sacks are, it’s me. I know he’s been getting there, and hopefully he can get hot now and start racking them up.”

Smith, a rookie who is having trouble getting on the field, observed Barwin’s performance from the sideline and wasn’t surprised.

“He’s definitely different,” Smith said. “He’s an awesome teammate. He just wants nothing but the best for his team. Every time he gets a sack or he does something for the team, the first thing he does is he goes and congratulates the D-Line because he knows the D-Line helped him get the sack. And he’ll go congratulate the DBs just because they’ve covered well. So just things like that, things that I see like that, it’ll make me a better player too.”

Barwin’s 10.5 sacks on the season are tied for second behind Kansas City’s Justin Houston. He’s not always the first guy to the quarterback, but does a great job of staying disciplined with his rush and finishing. All of Barwin’s sacks have come in the past six games.

He insists he’s not much different from the player who had five sacks a year ago. But the numbers are starting to pile up, and there are still seven games left.

“Numbers come,” Barwin said. “I think I’m a better player than I was last year. I think you 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 the opportunity to get some of those numbers. But it’s more about what we’ve been able to do as a whole up front.”

On Monday night, the Eagles truly delivered a team effort. But the pass-rush led the way. Brandon Graham had 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Curry had a sack/forced fumble. Mychal Kendricks, Cox and Trent Cole each had sacks as well. The Eagles totaled nine as a team, and on the season, they have 32, second to only the Buffalo Bills.

Davis’ unit is playing its best football since he took over as defensive coordinator. In addition to the sacks, the Eagles notched five takeaways (including a pick-six) against Carolina.

Next, they get a true measuring stick game against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers at Lambeau Field.