A popular sentiment among Steelers fans: Larry Foote is old, slow and a liability in the passing game.
The reality Steelers fans are missing: Larry Foote is an experienced, solid linebacker and the contract the Steelers gave him was the smart move to make.
After an objective and thorough review of Foote's performance on tape this season, Foote is not spectacular, but he is very solid. He is not going to make spectacular plays, but he is not going to give up plays either. He's a smart, veteran linebacker capable of leading this defense during a transition time.
I base this opinion on what I saw while reviewing eight games from 2012. I tried to pick out the games in which the Steelers defense played well (the first Baltimore game), and games in which the defense played not so well (the Dallas game).
Some of this may surprise you.
Foote's strength is actually in the passing game. He is terrific in pass coverage. In the second Baltimore game, he got beat on a jerk route by Ray Rice for a first down. But, that is the exception, not the rule.
Because of Foote's experience, he has seen every route coverage in football. As a result, he is able to anticipate routes and throws very well. This always puts him around the ball. Watching the game on TV, you might think that he was getting beat in coverage since he is always around the completion. That is not the case at all. What you don't see are the times when the quarterback has to pull the ball down because of excellent coverage.
It's not all praise and glory for the Steelers' 11-year veteran though. Foote moves well in coverage because he is not very big. However, this does not transfer well to getting off blocks. Once Foote is blocked, he normally stays blocked.
This play is a great example of Foote being solid. He plays this stack and read technique perfectly. What you have to consider when looking at a play like this is the amount of awareness that goes into it. How often does Foote get this look? What I mean is, how often does he get direct flow at him when he has a B gap player in front of him? In all the film I watched, this was the only time. Foote probably hasn't practiced this technique/read since camp. But, he still executes it perfectly.
As a linebacker, your run fit is determined by the coverage and the front. We all know Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau likes to run a lot of different coverages and fronts. Here is the dilemma for a rookie linebacker. You just don't have the time to rep everything and get good at it. You can study the playbook as much as you want, but as Tomlin likes to say, what matters is what happens in stadiums. Once again, great play here by Foote.
To be fair, here is where a rookie linebacker would probably do better than Foote. Once the wide receiver is forced to cut back, Foote has to make this play. As much flak as a certain linebacker from Notre Dame has gotten about his slow 40 times, I'm sure his times are faster than Foote. He ran a 4.83 coming out of Michigan in 2002. That's probably the reason he was picked where he was in the draft (fourth round in 2002), even though he was Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year.
There is definitely a difference between an "athlete" and a "football player," and that difference is seen on the field.
Foote cannot make these mistakes because he cannot recover. He is not stout enough to destroy the block of the offensive lineman and recover in A gap. As I mentioned earlier, once he is blocked, he stays blocked. Remember, however, Foote is not supposed to be blocked if the defensive linemen are doing their job. There isn't a linebacker in the NFL who is going to make plays consistently by going through offensive lineman. Still, it would probably serve Foote some good to spend some time on block destruction during OTA's.
This is a play the causes an offensive coordinator heart burn. Simply, there is no way the tight end should be covered. None. The Chiefs
have been running the ball extremely well. The play action is set up perfectly. Moreover, Foote reacts hard to the run. Somehow, he recognizes the tight end crossing his face while he is pursuing the running back. Even more impressively, he is able to change direction and cover the tight end. Yeah, it's not Tony Gonzalez at tight end, but if it was him the Chiefs wouldn't be running the ball as well either. This is another example of a very solid play by an experienced linebacker.
After watching the film, I'm glad the Steelers resigned him. Could they have signed him for less? Could the money have been better allocated someplace else? Once again, I really don't know those answers, and I look forward to what you think in the comments. But, based on the film, I can say that Foote is a good linebacker in this defense.