In 2013, the Eagles' defense gave up 394 yards per game, which was 29th in the NFL. However, because of the Eagles' fast-paced offense which resulted in quick scores when they were successful and quick punts when they weren't, the defense faced 1150 snaps. That was the most in the NFL, and 109 more snaps than the league average. Perhaps the better metric to use for a defense that has to play an inordinate number of snaps is yards per play. In 2013, the Eagles allowed 5.5 yards per play, which was tied with 2 other teams in the NFL for 19th in the league. By comparison, the NFC Champion Seahawks gave up a very impressive 4.4 yards per play.
For the Eagles themselves, it's all about something a lot more simple. "It's about points," said OLB Connor Barwin, speaking at the Super Bowl festivities in New York City. "We just talk about points. We had 9 or 10 weeks where we kept teams (at 21 points or less). I think we finished the year at 24 points per game. We need to get that down. You get to like 14, you're in the Super Bowl like Seattle. There's definitely a lot of room for improvement."
The Eagles allowed 23.9 points per game, which was good for 17th in the NFL. Through the first 4 weeks of the season, the Eagles allowed 138 points, or 34.5 per game, and looked like one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Over the remainder of the season, they allowed 20.3 per game, or an average of 2 fewer TDs per game than in those first 4 weeks. Barwin thinks that the defense should be able to pick up right away in Week 1 where they left off in 2013.
"I think there's going to be a lot of growth from year 1 to year 2," said Barwin. "Our defense got better and evolved as the season went on, and I like where we ended at. We'll have a better starting point from where we were last year. We're just going to grow, and it's not going to take the 8 weeks or whatever it took to install all of this, that we had to do with new coaches."
Barwin was a productive pass rusher this season, despite what the stat sheet might say. On the season, he only had 5 sacks, although that number is misleading. To begin, playing the "Jack" position (or "jack of all trades"), Barwin only rushed the passer on 59.5% of opposing offenses' pass plays because the Eagles needed him to drop into coverage more than the typical 3-4 OLB.
But also, Barwin tied for the league lead in batted passes in 2013, according to ProFootballFocus, with 7. (I had him down for 8 on the season). Batted passes are a point of emphasis in the Eagles' defense, and Barwin's batted pass on 4th down in the 4th quarter against the Cowboys Week 17 was one of the biggest plays of the year.
"It's something I do well," said Barwin. "It's something that was talked about a lot in Houston, where I came from. And it's the same thing (in Philly). Billy Davis talks about it all the time."
Barwin has a 40.5 inch vertical leap, although he says that batted passes are more about instinct than leaping ability. "You're not really jumping very much. There were a couple of mine where I jumped, but even if I wouldn't have jumped I would have gotten a hand on it. It's really just seeing the QB while you pass rush, and then getting your arms up when he's releasing. You just see his release point and get your arms up. I think it's just an instinct and feel kind of thing."
A sack will get you some lost yardage and occasionally some pain for the QB, but in terms of effectiveness, batted passes and sacks really aren't all that much different. If you took all the 3-4 OLB in the NFL, and calculated their sacks + batted passes, Barwin would be tied for 6th in the league:
And again, Barwin did that rushing the passer on fewer than 60% of pass plays.
Barwin said he was "disappointed" in Jason Kelce for not making it out of the first round of Wing Bowl. When told how many wings Kelce ate, Barwin changed his tune. "He ate 65 wings in 14 minutes? That should get you out of the first round. That's so impressive. Good for him. I'm not disappointed anymore. I didn't know it was 14 minutes."
Barwin is involved in a contest from Uber, a company that is sort of like a taxi service. If you download the Uber app, you have a chance to have Connor Barwin deliver 20 cheesestaeks from Geno's to your house on the afternoon of the Super Bowl. Said Barwin, "I'll be delivering 20 cheesesteaks to somebody's Super Bowl party, say hello, talk about football, all that stuff." You can find details of the contest here.