All-22: Examining Connor Barwin’s Role And Skill Set

Part of my contribution for this year’s Eagles Almanac (pre-order here!) focuses on the defense, and specifically Connor Barwin.

So I’ve been looking at quite a bit of All-22 over the past few days and have been surprised by some of the skills that Barwin brings to the table.

Barwin had 11.5 sacks during the 2011 regular season. Is he ever going to reach that mark again? If I had to bet my life savings (about 27 dollars, as of this afternoon), I’d say no. He only has 7.5 sacks in his other 37 career games (playoffs included).

But because of Barwin’s versatility, it’s easy to see why Howie Roseman, Chip Kelly and Billy Davis felt he could be a fit in this defense.

Take a look at this play against the Ravens in Week 7. Barwin starts off lined up against the tight end in the slot.

But just before the snap, he inches up to the line of scrimmage, and the inside linebacker rotates over to the tight end.

The one takeaway from Davis so far is that he wants to disguise pre-snap looks and make it difficult for opposing quarterbacks to know where the pressure is coming from. This is a good example of what he’s talking about.

I would describe Barwin’s pass-rush as more disciplined than explosive. He’s not going to consistently beat offensive tackles off the edge or with a bull-rush. But he is 6-4 with 33-inch arms and knows how to use his length.

Here, he bats down a Joe Flacco pass at the line of scrimmage.

Barwin knocked down five passes at the line of scrimmage last year. That was tied for first among outside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus. No Eagles player last year had more than two.

More disguise with Barwin on the next play. He dances around the line of scrimmage a bit and is standing up inside the defensive end in this first shot.

But Barwin eventually moves to the right outside linebacker spot.

Instead of rushing the passer, though, he’s asked to pick up Ray Rice out of the backfield – not an easy task.

It’s not like Barwin blankets Rice, but he’s athletic enough to stay close and trips up the running back short of the first down on a 3rd-and-10 reception.

Overall, Barwin was better in coverage than I was expecting. According to PFF, he was asked to drop back 13.6 percent of the time on pass plays last year. I looked at the 25 3-4 OLBs who played the most snaps last year, and on average, they dropped back into coverage about 22 percent of the time.

It seemed like Barwin didn’t drop back more because of the Texans’ scheme (and because he was coming off an 11.5-sack year). Rushing the passer is still the top priority for outside linebackers, but don’t be surprised if Barwin’s asked to show off his versatility more in the Eagles’ scheme.

One more example here against the Lions. He lines up opposite tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

Pettigrew stays in to block for a moment before going into his route. Matthew Stafford actually wanted to go to Pettigrew on this play, but Barwin was all over him.

You can see Barwin is man-to-man on Pettigrew. There’s no help to that side of the field. Stafford held on to the ball, tried to scramble and was taken down after a 1-yard gain.

Again, much more on Barwin coming in the Eagles Almanac, but overall, I saw a more versatile skill set than I was anticipating.

Based on the games I watched, I didn’t see a top-end edge rusher. About the midway point between the three sacks he had last year and the 11.5 he had in 2011 seems fair.

In the Eagles’ defense, Barwin will likely be asked to perform a variety of duties. Remember, this team doesn’t have another guy on the roster with NFL experience as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Expect Barwin to line up in different spots and be used by Davis to try and confuse opposing offenses. The skill set shown above will likely be tested in 2013.

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