With a new regime in Philadelphia, the Eagles will be switching over to a hybrid 3-4 defense under defensive coordinator Billy Davis for the 1st time since since 1980’s. The move makes sense, as most of the 32 teams have made the switch from a traditional 4-3 defense (four lineman, three linebackers) to the more flexible 3-4 defense (which consists of a three three lineman and four linebackers).
The key addition to the Eagles’ switch was former Houston Texans linebacker Connor Barwin. His knowledge of the system will be key, as he is one of the few starters on this defense that has experience in the 3-4. Barwin played it in Houston under defensive guru Wade Phillips (as did current Eagles MLB DeMeco Ryans, who was traded from Houston last offseason because he struggled in the Texans’ new system).
Barwin’s main skill set is in coverage due to his speed. He is known to shut down the opposing tight end in coverage, while also effectively pressuring the quarterback consistently; those are two of the key factors that you need to survive in a 3-4 defense.
Expect Barwin to step in and be an immediate leader on the defense. Players such as Trent Cole, Michael Kendricks and Vinny Curry will be leaning a lot on his teaching to smoothly adjust to this defensive style. These three players are going to need to adapt to play stand-up OLB off the snap in a 3-4. This is after having their hand in the dirt in a 4-3 last season.
There is concern about Barwin’s production drop-off last year. His sack total dipped from 11.5 in 2011 to 3.0 in 2012. But according to what Howie Roseman, that drop off was due to how the Texans used him:
“He was more on the open side two years ago,” Roseman said of Barwin’s 11.5-sack campaign (via Philadelphia Inquirer). “He was more in position to set the edge and cover the tight end this year. We watched him two years ago on the open side and then even this year when they played the Lions when he was doing it more. … We think we know what we’re getting here in a high-motor guy.”
So, with a fresh start and the Eagles apparently aware of how to use Barwin properly, it is likely that he to have a a big impact on this defense as both a leader on the field and in the locker room, as well as on the stat sheet. He will be the team’s shutdown coverage linebacker and an explosive pass-rusher when needed.