The Steelers could get a massive boost to their defense against the Cardinals on Sunday. Following the team’s 16-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Trenton Thompson and Damontae Kazee have held the fort down while Minkah Fitzpatrick and Keanu Neal have been out, but it was for more than just the win.
Kazee was always a ball of energy and was hyped in the locker room. And he seemed excited for the future of a Steelers defense that has rounded itself into quite a formidable group. Why? More help could be on the way with the addition Fitzpatrick back into the lineup in his return from a hamstring injury.
“Shoot, we know Minkah comes back this week,” Kazee told Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “A lot of us ain’t gonna be playing in those spots.”
That would be massive news for the Steelers. The return of All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is the last missing piece Pittsburgh finally has to get their defense together. If you are keeping count, the four-headed monster of Alex Highsmith, T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Fitzpatrick have played just two series together this season. That’s a stunning stat. But Heyward’s return has boosted the front. Fitzpatrick’s return should boost the back end.
Fitzpatrick has been out of the Steelers’ lineup since suffering his right hamstring injury against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 9. He has missed the team’s last four games, and despite optimism from head coach Mike Tomlin that he would be able to return to practice multiple times over that period
, he has yet to do so.
The Steelers replaced Fitzpatrick by moving Damontae Kazee from strong safety to free safety, and Keanu Neal, who had been sharing time with Kazee at strong safety, moved into a full-time starting role.
That lasted until Neal was injured in the fourth quarter of the team’s Week 10 win over the Green Bay Packers. Neal was placed on injured reserve with a rib injury, and will miss at least three more games.
Trenton Thompson was called up from the practice squad and made his first career start at strong safety in Week 11 against the Cleveland Browns and appears set to do the same this week in Cincinnati.
The Steelers lost more of their safety depth against the Browns. Backup free safety and slot cornerback Elijah Riley suffered a high ankle sprain and will miss at least four weeks after being placed on IR.
Fitzpatrick’s impending return could be the boost they need for the down-the-stretch playoff push. Kazee has levelled up his play all while Fitzpatrick has gone to the sidelines to help coach. But together, they could be a solid safety duo.