Foote fits Cardinals’ needs like pair of comfortable slippers

Larry Foote (right) and cornerback Antonio Cromartie team up to bring down Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen.

Mark J. Rebilas/Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

 GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Cardinals pursued veteran linebacker Larry Foote for two years before finally landing him this offseason. Now that they have him, it is easy to understand coach Bruce Arians’ infatuation.

 Foote made the play that sealed the Cardinals’ 18-17 victory over San Diego on Monday by deflecting Philip Rivers’ pass at the line of scrimmage in the final two minutes. That was hardly all.

 He led the team with eight tackles, two for losses, and for one night made the loss of suspended former Pro Bowl linebacker Darryl Washington seem like a middling concern, on the level of like missing a dental appointment.

 "That’s the Larry Foote I’ve known for 10 years," Arians said. "He’s a football player. That’s all you can describe him as. We identified him two years ago, and he went back to Pittsburgh for a year. He’s going to be the bell cow for us all year."

 With 12 seasons in and two Super Bowl rings on his mantle, Foote could have chosen to retire after missing all but one game in 2013 because of a torn biceps muscle suffered in the Steelers’ season opener against Tennessee.

Cardinals 18, Chargers 17

 Get serious.

 Pittsburgh re-signed Foote with an aggressive pursuit before the 2013 season, but when they cut him in the offseason to avoid accepting a $6.25 million salary cap hit, the Cardinals came back into the picture.

Foote sought a team that he not only felt comfortable with but one that he believed was on the cusp of big things. With Arians and defensive line coach and former Steelers training camp coach Brentson Buckner in Arizona, signing with the Cardinals was no stretch at all.

 "In the last stages of my career … this league is all about winning," said Foote, 34. "You achieve so much by winning. Being a free agent in Year 13, I had to go to a team I knew that could win. I was determined (to play), but it had to be the right place."

 Foote’s fit the Cardinals’ needs like a pair of comfortable slippers on Monday night.

 The Cardinals were playing their first game without Washington, free agent loss Karlos Dansby, injured defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and injured safety Tyrann Mathieu, and there naturally were questions as to how the defensive unit would hold up against one of the best offenses in the NFL in 2013.

 The Chargers were fourth in the league in passing yards, fifth in total offense and 12th in scoring last season, winning their final four games to make the playoffs. Rivers led the league with a 69.5 completion percentage.

 Not to worry. Foote helped stuff the run early, and he was a big reason that defense limited the Chargers to 290 yards, 103 yards below its 2013 average.

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 On the Chargers’ final drive, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles remained aggressive. With San Diego on the 40-yard line and facing a second-and-two, Bowles dialed up a blitz. And another. And another. Rivers threw three incomplete passes, Foote deflecting the final attempt at the line, throwing it off line enough that Keenan Allen could not latch onto it over the middle. 

 "They pinched everything down, and we can’t get home on that," Foote said of the San Diego blocking scheme on the final play. "So you just try to read the quarterback’s eyes and get your hands up."

 Foote had three 100-tackle seasons with Pittsburgh and had 99 in his one year with Detroit. Part of his job is to mentor young players such as Kevin Minter, who is taking Dansby’s spot. But when Washington’s suspension came down, Arians already had a ready replacement.

 "I truly think he is going to be the MVP of this defense," said cornerback Patrick Peterson. "He’s coming from a  winning organization. He’s a savvy vet. He plays fast. He communicates well with everyone — secondary, linebackers, the ‘D’ line." 

 Foote had fun with that.

 "I’m just old, and I’ve been known for having a big mouth. If they call that leadership, I’ll take it," he said.

 Veteran defensive tackle Calais Campbell also called Foote an ideal teammate.

 "He’s a warrior on the field," Campbell said. "He’s a blitzer, and that’s what we like to do, so this defense fits him very well.

 "I love that guy. He’s a leader naturally. His personality is huge. It makes everybody’s day better by laughing and joking. But he’s also very motivational. He has that unique quality to motivate and lead. Always says the right thing. Makes everybody laugh."

 Campbell has only one bone to pick with Foote.

 "He took my Super Bowl ring," Campbell said with a laugh, remembering Feb. 1, 2009.

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