Part 1: Run Defense
Over the last decade, the Steelers have always been a dominant team in the running game. Many factors play into this success, but to me, the two positions that need to have the most success are nose tackle and middle linebacker. Like I addressed in my last film analysis on Steve McLendon, the nose tackle needs to force the issue by taking the double team, allowing the middle linebackers to come flying in unblocked.
When it comes to run defense for middle linebackers, they have to basically be a wild maniac, but controlled at the same time. In 2013, Larry Foote had a combined 113 tackles, and make no mistake, this happened for a reason. In his first full season as a starter for the Steelers since 2008, Larry Foote came back better than ever, in my opinion. Watching him in spot duty concerned me because he always looked a bit rusty when he was filling in for James Farrior. If Warren wants to talk about one player that is “old and slow,” that player would be James Farrior, who looked way past his prime in 2011, bringing forth his release after the 2011 season.
Foote is not the biggest inside linebacker that you will find, but his veteran presence is felt on the football field. At the Buck position that Foote played, he did a very nice job of flowing to the ball carrier, and closing in on the running back when the time came. I was very impressed with his ability to read-and-react every game. It was often that you found Larry Foote in the middle of most plays. While he isn’t the fastest linebacker the Steelers have, he is one of the fastest within short yardarge. Once he sees the play develop, he doesn’t waste time in getting to the ball carrier. For those like Warren Sapp doubting Foote’s quickness and ability to react quickly, the play that I have broken down below should change your mind.
During this play at the beginning of the 1st quarter, the offensive line prepares to step right while running back Chris Johnson will be running an inside zone play which is intended to go to the right. Larry Foote is lined up straight back from the right guard, as he prepares to shoot through the A-gap after he reads the play once the ball is snapped.
As the ball is snapped, from the get-go a lane is created for Larry Foote to fill in between the center and right guard. I have marked it with the white lines. The center’s focus is on Hampton, while the guards focus is on Ziggy Hood, so it basically is up to Larry Foote to make the play, since the Titans are hoping Johnson can beat Foote one-on-one.
Larry Foote is committing to the lane and Chris Johnson sees this, so he looks the other way to see if he can cut back. The center is fully committed to Hampton, so Larry Foote is still unblocked. It all comes down to Foote’s ability to contain Johnson.
At this point, Larry Foote has met Johnson in the hole, so Johnson looks to his left to try to cut back. Larry Foote has squared up on Johnson, so it makes it more difficult for Johnson to try to make a move. Johnson is trying to plant off of his right foot, escaping from Foote.
Even though Chris Johnson tries to cut back, he is unsuccessful, as Larry Foote stops him in his tracks, tackling the speedster Johnson for a loss.
If Larry Foote was too slow and unable to read-and-react, this play would have never been made, and Chris Johnson would have either faked him out, or cut back and ran the other way. It’s no secret that learning Dick Lebeau’s is difficult, but to understand and be able to read what an NFL offense is doing takes a very smart player. Larry Foote has this ability, and this is why he is one of the leaders of their defense.
Old and slow doesn’t stop most running backs, especially arguably the fastest player in the NFL in Chris Johnson. Larry Foote didn’t just tackle him a few yards down the field, he stopped Chris Johnson cold in his tracks. Larry Foote may not be an All-pro run defender, but to me, he has it where it counts. The one area of his run defending that was not as solid, was his inability to fight off blockers when he was out muscled on occasion. But to me, this has never been a “strength” of his, so it has nothing to do with his old age.
For me, as far as the running game is concerned, Larry Foote is not slow. He still has the speed to keep up with the fast pace, NFL running games.
Old and Slow in Run Game: No