A new series on Steelers Depot to get us through the offseason. As the title implies, we’re explaining the role of players on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster. Beyond just starter, backup, or special teamer, we’re describing what their ideal role and contribution to the team in 2023 will be.
We’ll continue with FS Minkah Fitzpatrick.
FS Minkah Fitzpatrick – Rover/Rotater + Open Field Stopper
At this point in his established career, it’s not as if Minkah Fitzpatrick needs his role explained to many people. Every Steelers fan knows who he is, where he thrives. Still, it’s nice to put these things down on paper and say out loud. Fitzpatrick succeeded in Pittsburgh where he failed in Miami: the Steelers using him primarily as a free safety, not a movable strong safety who did a bit of everything.
Centerfield. That’s where Fitzpatrick should roam. Once the Steelers proved they knew how to use him, he became more open to moving around. No longer is he *just* a centerfielder, the post/middle safety. In some ways, that diminishes his impact. Quarterbacks can avoid throwing in that deep middle of the field. They can still succeed without that real estate.
Where Fitzpatrick has shined is his ability to move around, rob crossing routes, and rotate pre-snap. It forces quarterbacks to know where he’s playing at all times, not just knowing his pre-snap alignment and keeping the ball away from him. And that’s easier said than done for a Steelers secondary that is no stranger to disguising things. They may show Fitzpatrick playing a deep-half alignment pre-snap before he spins down post-snap. Or looking like he’ll play an underneath hook zone before dropping to the middle.
Like Troy Polamalu, the success comes through the threat of the unknown. Where he’ll be one snap might not be where he’s at the next. And where he aligns before the ball is hiked might not be where he’ll end up. It slows offenses down, forces quarterback to process and read in those precious seconds before T.J. Watt hits them and allows Fitzpatrick to jump routes. That’s how he makes a lot of his plays.
Fitzpatrick is also good at the boring. The nuts of bolts of defense is getting off blocks and making tackles. He doesn’t have to do much of the former but he does plenty of the latter. A little less in 2022 than 2021, certainly a good thing, but he should be credited as one of the best open-field tacklers among NFL safeties.
His position is a literal last line of defense, and you can’t be a liability there. Be it stopping one of those crossers from turning a good gain into a great one or filling the alley in the run game, Fitzpatrick is doing much of his work 1v1 in open space. Tracking the inside hip, coming to balance, and finishing are all as much part of his job description as ball-hawking and he does both well. The tackling stuff just gets lost in the highlight reel.
WHAT’S HIS ROLE? SERIES
WR Allen Robinson
LB Cole Holcomb
RB Jaylen Warren