ASHBURN, Va. -- Shortly after the Washington Redskins signed nose tackle Barry Cofield in 2011, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett made a bold statement. Cofield, he said, would become the NFL’s best nose tackle.
Two years later, Haslett is ready to make another pronouncement. He just changed from future tense to present.
“Barry is the best nose tackle in the league,” he said. “He can do a little of everything. He’s good against the run, he’s powerful. He’s strong. He’s a good pass-rusher. He’s relentless. That’s a combination that makes him the best. Maybe he’s not 350 pounds; he’s 315 or 316. But he’s ideal for what we do.”
Cofield is playing the way the Redskins hoped he would. It’s also the way he played this summer before breaking a bone in his right hand, forcing him to wear a protective club for the first two games. Cofield doesn’t rely on his hands to beat blockers, but he certainly needs them and it limited his effectiveness.
But since then?
“He’s been outstanding,” Haslett said. “He was exceptional last week.”
Best nose tackle? That’s tough to say. Outstanding of late? That’s easy to say -- and the film backs up Haslett. Against the Raiders, Cofield recorded two sacks and helped set up Ryan Kerrigan for another. He displayed power, quickness, athleticism and desire. Cofield consistently sets up teammates with his ability to, in essence, block linemen on stunts.
Power: On the Raiders’ fourth play of the game, Cofield, aligned outside the right guard, slanted inside as the guard blocked him. The back chipped briefly, then the center slid over. Cofield then drove the double team back several yards -- it looked like the sled drill -- forcing quarterback Matt Flynn to escape to the left where linebacker Brian Orakpo sacked him.
Quickness: It’s not just his feet, it’s his hands. This summer, against Pittsburgh’s Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, Cofield beat him time and again with swim moves, which requires speedy hands. Sunday, on a second-and-12 in the fourth quarter, Cofield set up between the center and right guard. At the snap, he shot to the other side of the center, quickly gaining position with both his hands and feet. When the left guard tried to come over and help, it was too late. Cofield recorded the sack. Later, on the fourth and inches, Cofield shot low to help make the stop.
Athleticism: This is the play Haslett raved about, saying several times he’d never seen a nose tackle do such a thing. Cofield was driven about two yards back and to his right -- that was also the direction of the play. While he was engaged with a blocker, another defender tried to cut him. Without looking, Cofield hopped, never slowed, shed the blocker and got in on the stop.
Desire: Late in the second quarter, Flynn dumped a screen pass to running back Rashad Jennings in the backfield, about three or four yards to Cofield’s left. Cofield immediately turned and ran and got involved in the tackle after a seven-yard gain. Was his presence necessary? No. But it was telling.
“He’s the reason everything goes,” Haslett said.