Philadelphia Eagles Bet Barwin And Graham Are Irresistible Forces


Dec 7, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker

Connor Barwin

(98) prior to the start of a game against the Seattle Seahawks at Lincoln Financial Field. The Seahawks defeated the Eagles 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles Bet Barwin And Graham Are Irresistible Forces

The Philadelphia Eagles, and specifically head coach Chip Kelly, are proving time and again that they are not shying away from taking risks in 2015. From virtually every roster move completed this off-season, the risk factor is noticeably greater than previous years (with the exception of the 2011 free agency fest).  Risk is a fair trade off if the production improves.  While the offense has moved the ball up and down the field, and while it has been one of the most prolific scoring offenses these past two years, the red zone and turnovers have kept the offense merely in the very good category and under it’s potential as one of the best of all times.

Players who are inexpensive, healthy, and productive, simply do not get cut nor are permitted to explore contracting with other teams.  So Chip Kelly had to go with two out of three, and ended up signing players who were relatively inexpensive and productive, but were injured recently.  Most of the signings of injured players have been anchored in the belief that signed players will return to their pre-injury production upon putting on an Eagles jersey.  But that is the offense.

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On defense, the team needed a boost.  Hopefully, inside linebacker Kiko Alonso can return to his rookie year production and rule the defense from the interior of the formation.  Paired with the likes of Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans, the Eagles should feel pretty good about their linebacker corps.  Two players who are NOT coming off injuries now find themselves as bookends to what is hoped to be one of the most proficient NFL edge rushing tandems since the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers fielded outside linebacker James Harrison with LaMarr Woodley.  Or if you prefer a modern example, Baltimore Ravens outside linebacking pair of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.  I’m talking about outside linebackers Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham.

Finding the right mix of pass rush and coverage in an outside linebacker is a difficult task.  Invariably, they will excel in one area.  The Eagles have found the key to squeezing pass rush from this position.  Perhaps it was a change of defensive scheme and philosophy.  Perhaps it was the pep talk/training afforded to linebackers in 2014 in the form of perennial Pro-Bowler Kevin Greene.  Whatever the cause, the effect was the outside linebacker position accounted for 26.5 sacks of a total 49 in 2014.

While it’s easy enough to look at the 14.5 sacks clocked by speedster Conner Barwin, the 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 18 quarterback hurries by Brandon Graham actually was the most efficient pass rushing in the NFL on a per snap basis.   His total came from only 499 defensive snaps, or 1.1 sack, .8 forced fumbles and 3.6 hurries per hundred snaps.   The piece to Graham’s defensive arsenal was the question of his ability to start in the 3-4.  He had that chance in 2014, and his play didn’t erode in the slightest.   In fact, he seemed to set the tempo for the game.  He maintained the edge in nearly textbook perfect fashion, and has added formidable run defense to accompany his pass rushing.

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  • It was clear in the press meeting after resigning that Graham was happy to be back with Philly.  But more than anything, you can see the excitement in his eyes, the enthusiasm in his voice.  He is now the unquestioned starter for the Philadelphia Eagles for the first time in his career since his rookie season.  His ability has been penned up on the bench for a number of years, and it’s clear that he is eager to get that starting role.   It’s as good a time as any to review Graham’s NFL history.  Drafted in 2010 with the number one pick, his role was to come in and be an explosive pass rusher which the Eagles desperately needed.  In his first season, he played a total of 13 games before suffering a damaging ACL injury.  But the timing of the injury could not have been worse, as the league locked out players during a contract dispute in 2011.   At a time when he needed team resources the most, the team was unable to assist his rehabilitation.   As Graham tried to heal, the team hired “wide 9” defensive line specialist Jim Washburn and backed into filling the defensive coordinator role with new-to-defense Juan Castillo.   To fill the vacuum left by Graham’s injury, Washburn tapped his protege’ defensive end Jason Babin.  And so, Graham returned to the roster for the final three games and made limited contributions to the team, relegated to backup for the team.    With the dismissal of Washburn in 2012, and the dismissal of Jason Babin, Graham once more had a short lived taste of a starting role, and made the best of it to lead the team with 5.5 sacks despite starting only a handful of games.

    But fates were cruel to Graham once more, as 2013 brought a new defensive coordinator (now Graham’s fourth in four years) with an entirely new defensive scheme, the 3-4.   Since no Eagles player were familiar with the scheme, the team signed outside linebacker Connor Barwin to start at one slot, and placed Trent Cole as the starter in the other slot.  Once more, Graham was forced to a rotational role from the bench.   New to a 3-4, his 2013 numbers were pedestrian, but much was simply the number of changes he had experienced in virtually each year of his short NFL career.

    2014 would be different.  He would return to the same defensive scheme and to the same defensive coaches for the first time in his career.   I had actually expected him to have a breakout year.   If not for the limits to snaps, Graham would have been one of the league leaders in any number of defensive categories.   Now that he is set to play the majority of defensive snaps opposite Barwin, I believe that there is a sense in both he and the team that his numbers will run parallel with Barwin.

    Not to leave anything to chance, the Eagles also took the time to renegotiate the contract of pro bowler Connor Barwin.  While most renegotiations begin with an intent on lowering the salary cap, this reopening was designed to add additional incentives to Barwin’s contract following his breakout year with the team. The notice of the new deal came from Barwin himself from a tweet:

    It’s fair to be skeptical of the defense before they take the field in 2015.  But one thing is clear.   The front seven of the Philadelphia Eagles, if healthy, can achieve elite status in the NFL if all play to their potential.   Defensive coordinator Billy Davis is finally placing his stamp on the defense at key positions.  The offensive line of many NFC East rivals have improved to a point that they could be considered immoveable objects in pass protection.  Davis has already countered that by setting up Barwin and Graham as irresistible forces.  The Eagles bet that irresistible force trumps immovable object.

    I bet they are right.

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