Connor Barwin's increased sack production this season can be tracked back to March, when the team bolstered its secondary in free agency but failed to add a pass rusher.

The Eagles thought they could improve their pass rush with players returning for their second season in Bill Davis' scheme. One idea was to use Barwin more in that role this season.

There was not a noticeable change until recent weeks, but it's now paying off: Barwin is tied for third in the NFL with six sacks. Three came in Sunday's 27-0 win over the New York Giants.

"I kind of thought it might happen because our secondary had another year under its belt," Barwin said. "I knew bringing in [Malcolm] Jenkins and a guy like Nolan Carroll would help our secondary, and I thought [Davis] would be more confident. Because, really, when I dropped last year, it was . . . to help wherever I could."

Barwin rushed the passer on only 58 percent of the passing plays when he was on the field last season, according to Pro Football Focus. He finished with five sacks. He is rushing on only 60 percent of his pass plays this season, but it has increased to 66 percent during the last two games. Barwin has five sacks in those games.

Last season, Barwin was the only true 3-4 outside linebacker on the roster. He was the player who most often needed to drop into coverage, which became more of a necessity with a struggling secondary. The Eagles' other outside linebackers are more developed this season - Brandon Graham is dropping into coverage on 12 percent more of his passing downs - and the secondary has more talent.

When the Eagles' pass rush struggled to record sacks earlier this season, Barwin insisted the numbers were misleading - the Eagles were trailing in games, so their pass-rush opportunities were minimized.

The Eagles totaled three sacks in their first three games, when they were outscored by a combined 27 points in the first half. They have 16 sacks in the last three games, when they have outscored opponents by 41 points in the first half. It has also allowed them to send Barwin toward the quarterback with more nickel and dime packages on the field.

"It's a lot easier to rush the passer when you know it's a pass, and not 50-50 or 60-40," Barwin said. "That changes a lot. We're not making any of the mental errors we made early on. We're getting a lot more comfortable with our communication."

Barwin cautioned that the way he is used could change in the next game, and he doesn't rush nearly as much as he did in 2011, when Barwin recorded 111/2 sacks for Houston while rushing on 87 percent of the passing plays.

Davis said last season that Barwin wore "more hats" than any player on defense, and that remains the case. The Eagles have used him to cover in space, to cover tight ends, and to bump wide receivers at the line. His role could change each week, but he clearly offers pass-rushing skills to a team that badly needs them.

"Some guys are limited because of their athletic ability that they only can kind of have one go-to move," coach Chip Kelly said. "If it stops, they can't counter off of it. I think [Barwin] developed his repertoire, and he's really worked at it, and he's relentless."

When asked if this is the best he's played during his career, Barwin noted that a player is invigorated by confidence. He likes how he's functioning within this defense and what his role has become.

Barwin is the type of player Kelly can appreciate because he has sacrificed sack totals to fulfill other responsibilities that seldom draw fanfare. Yet Barwin's teams have won 68 percent of the games he has played since he became a defensive player in his senior season at Cincinnati, and he has started 80 percent of them.

Barwin's six sacks during the last three weeks have put him within reach of another double-digit sack season. He has not made the Pro Bowl during his career, and the Eagles have not sent a defensive player to the Pro Bowl since 2012. That could change this season.

"That's a long way to go," Barwin said. "But I know if we continue to play the level we're capable as a team and as a defense, there'll be plenty of people that the rest of the league notices."