Eagles’ Connor Barwin having breakout year

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Wherever he lines up, Connor Barwin makes quarterbacks and their blockers notice.

Barwin sacked Cam Newton 3 1/2 times in Philadelphia’s 45-21 win over Carolina on Monday night, bringing his season total to 10 1/2. Only Kansas City’s Justin Houston has more (12).

Barwin already set a team record for most sacks in a season by a linebacker and he’s only the fifth Eagles player to have two three-sack games in a year. Barwin brought down Eli Manning three times in a 27-0 win on Oct. 12.

Not bad for a jack of all trades.

Coach Chip Kelly said Barwin’s versatility in playing multiple positions is a huge plus.

”He has an understanding of who he’s going against and he spends a lot of time in his preparation in terms of what he’s trying to get accomplished against certain individual players and those individual matchups,” Kelly said. ”He’s also a very good athlete, so he can have more than one maneuver.”

Barwin was one of the first acquisitions the Eagles made in free agency after Kelly replaced Andy Reid in 2013. He spent his first four seasons in Houston and had a career-best 11 1/2 sacks for the Texans in 2011.

Barwin was an ideal fit for defensive coordinator Billy Davis’ 3-4 scheme. He had just five sacks last year, but his value to the defense went beyond the stats. Now, he’s knocking more QBs to the ground.

”I think I’m a better player than I was last year,” Barwin said. ”I think we have to improve every year, but I think my numbers are a bigger result of what we’re doing as a group up front.”

The Eagles sacked Newton nine times with Barwin leading the way. Linebackers Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks and Trent Cole also combined for 3 1/2 sacks. With middle linebacker and defensive captain DeMeco Ryans out for the season following surgery on his Achilles, Barwin has assumed more of a leadership role.

”He’s definitely a great leader, him and Trent Cole,” Graham said. ”I look up to both of them. I just try to get better with them each and every day; they push me to the limit in the weight room.”

The Eagles are second in the NFL with 32 sacks. They’ll have a tough task Sunday at Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers is having an MVP-caliber season with 25 TDs and only three interceptions. He’s been sacked 20 times.

Barwin suggested he might spy Rodgers the way he did Newton, who is more of a threat to run the ball. The coaches didn’t want to discuss the game plan.

AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi