PITTSBURGH — Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin believes that safeties Keanu Neal and Minkah Fitzpatrick will be game-time decisions for Sunday’s game against the Browns. Those players are banged up, with Fitzpatrick missing the last two games with a hamstring injury and Neal still ailing from a rib injury. However, Austin is not sure if those guys will play. If not, Elijah Riley, Trenton Thompson, and Miles Killebrew will get more next to Damontae Kazee.
“I think those are going to come down to game time, as we get closer to the game, and we’ll see,” Austin said.
Mike Tomlin said on Tuesday that Neal and Fitzpatrick could practice this week, but that means no guarantee for those guys playing. Pittsburgh is already missing several players up front due to the Kwon Alexander and Cole Holcomb injuries. While Fitzpatrick is out, he is helping on the sidelines, though.
Working the sidelines alongside head coach Mike Tomlin, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and defensive backs coach Grady Brown, Fitzpatrick was wearing a headset and trying to do anything he could to help his replacements surge to victory against the Packers.
He certainly did that, and Fitzpatrick came through with a coaching suggestion that put Damontae Kazee, filling in for him at his free safety spot, in a position to win the game.
With three seconds to play, the Packers had the ball at the Steelers 16-yard line. The Steelers initially lined up in a normal-looking defense, but Fitzpatrick objected. He got in the ear of Brown and then Austin, eventually getting the Steleers to call a timeout so that the full brain trust could talk it over.
Pittsburgh hopes that Fitzpatrick and Neal return soon, as their safeties are inexperienced without them. It has led to some miscommunication on the back end and explosive plays that have put the defense in some tough situations.