The Redskins linebacking corps may be the heart and soul of their defense, but their success level is completely dependent on the line in front of them. In the middle of that line is probably the most important piece at nose tackle. The nose tackle, or “middle man” is essential for a 3-4 to work effectively. While for the most part they are fairly unheralded players, their effectiveness level has a major impact on the rest of a defense. A quality NT can stifle a running game, and free up pass rushers in the passing game. For the Redskins the man in the middle is Barry Cofield, who is in his second year in Washington.
Now Cofield didn’t have a great initial season at the NT position (he was a 4-3 DT in New York) for Washington, but his impact was felt nonetheless. The year prior the used a committee approach of an injured Ma’ake Kemoeatu, an undersized Vonnie Holliday (primarily on passing downs), a disgruntled (esp. when at NT) Albert Haynesworth and a journeyman Anthony Bryant. With the exception of a few plays from Holliday and the couple of times where Haynesworth even gave a little bit of effort, the NT play was atrocious (the rest of the DL wasn’t much better). This left the middle of the field exposed and extra blockers to take care of blitzers.
Right away this past season you saw a dramatic difference, in what Cofield brought to the table. Cofield wasn’t a consistent penetrator, but he showed an ability to push the pocket, and hold his ground in the running game.Cofield may not be the impact guy like a B.J. Raji, but he was a vast improvement over the year before. He showed a nice ability to locate the football, and get off blocks at times (though he needs more consistency here). He was also particularly apt at batting down passes, as his 7 tied him for third in the league among all defensive linemen and linebackers (both 3-4 and 4-3).
I know batted passes aren’t considered as valuable as sacks, hits or pressures, but honestly Cofield deserves a fair bit of credit there. Those are seven passes that had almost zero chance of success, and to get them stopped at the line of scrimmage is far better than rolling the dice on the Redskins defensive backs stopping the play. Essentially those seven batted passes are the same as stopping a running back for no gain. But it goes just beyond those seven individual plays. When you start batting that many passes down, it begins to force opposing teams to not feel as comfortable throwing in that lane, which of course helps make things easier for the rest of the defense.
Now Cofield of course didn’t improve the Redskins Defense alone, as the team had a number of new additions to that front seven, but his impact was the one that probably benefited the most players, given the importance of his position, and the pathetic nose tackle performance the year before. Cofield while a vast improvement still has plenty of room for improvement, which could be a great thing for the Redskins if he can take his game to the next level. I really don’t think he can ever be considered an elite or great nose tackle, but I do believe he has the potential to be a good nose tackle (right now I see him as average to slightly above average). He already has that great awareness, which is usually an issue for many players, he just needs to be more of a consistent force. If he does that his improvement could make life easier for a number of other Redskins defenders and help pave the way for the team to once again be a top 10 unit.