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Big Change in Way Steelers are Using Minkah Fitzpatrick



Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Steelers free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick sits on the sideline against the 49ers, Sept. 10, 2023 - Ed Thompson./ Steelers Now

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers envision Minkah Fitzpatrick as the do-it-all safety who can play anywhere over the field. He has played multiple positions, and on Sunday against the 49ers, he manned the slot and played in the box far more often than before. The snap breakdown shows how his usage was against the 49ers all over the place. Not just that, he blitzed four times, and that’s a third of the number of times he blitzed in all of 2022, registering 12 blitzes.

Take it for what it is, but it paints a picture of how much the Steelers respected George Kittle and wanted to take him away. With no actual tight-end eraser aside from him, Fitzpatrick ended up in more man coverage, box-heavy situations than he usually did before. So, how do the Steelers plan to use him moving forward? Well, it might not be as a box safety, and it looks like it could be as a jack of all trades, depending on the week.

“I think it’s going to depend on who we play and what we’re trying to get done,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “That could change weekly. I can’t tell you that in case it’s supposed to change this week. I don’t know. But we’ll just let it go. One thing with Minkah is he’s pretty good wherever you put him, so we’ll use him wherever we have to.”

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Minkah Fitzpatrick should see more snaps on the back end and in that robber role against Cleveland. But David Njoku is a tough player to take away without a dedicated player to remove those tight ends. Previously, Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds usually split those duties. But now, Fitzpatrick is tasked with most of those duties to help the Steelers against those tight ends. While it’s not the entire reason the Steelers’ defense looked slightly sluggish on the back end, it contributed to that. Fitzpatrick sees himself as a guy who can play anywhere on any down, though. He has always done that, but on a week-to-week basis, Fitzpatrick’s position label can change. He’s a rover that can adapt each week.

Even from the box, Fitzpatrick had to communicate back when it looked like the safeties were in disarray. A key member and leader of that communication hub, Fitzpatrick’s usage left me scratching my head at times. It is not a bad idea to slow down Kittle, but by making Fitzpatrick a box player in this game, the Steelers took him out of the game for stretches at a time, making Brock Purdy’s life over the middle of the field easier. With Deshaun Watson and the Browns coming to town, they can’t afford for Fitzpatrick to be that invisible.

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