Take a quick glance at his stat sheet this year and you might wonder what’s wrong with Pittsburgh Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick. While he does have 52 tackles, he has zero interceptions through six games. He has only recorded two passes defensed, as well. And that’s it. Not exactly an All-Pro resume.
But many will tell you to take a closer look and trust your eyes, because what his numbers say and what he’s actually doing on the field don’t necessarily tell the same story. I will admit he is not having his best season to date, but he’s not exactly been a weak link.
“You’ve got to understand, people are going away from Minkah”, former Steelers CB Ike Taylor said on the DVE Morning Show on Tuesday with Randy Baumann when asked about Fitzpatrick’s numbers so far this season.
“Once you see Minkah, man, you go opposite, especially when it comes down to passing”, he continued. “Minkah’s gonna have his time. I would rather Minkah get hot late than early. It just takes once for Minkah. Once Minkah gets one interception, you better believe he’ll end up with five or six”.
Fitzpatrick has recorded four or more interceptions in a season three times since being acquired by the Steelers via trade in 2019. He had a league-leading six in 2022—and he had three of them in his first four games, including one returned for a touchdown.
But then he went five games without recording another, and nobody really said anything. And then he got three more in a five-week span. He may not have any in the first six games of the 2023 season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t finish with three or four.
“These teams ain’t stupid, man. They see 39 back there, they’re throwing away from 39”, Taylor said. I do have to counter this somewhat, though, because the numbers don’t show that teams are avoiding him at all, at least any more than they have in the past.
According to Pro Football Reference, for example, he has already been targeted 26 times this season. Pro Football Focus has him down for 22 targets. Either way, that’s a significant workload. That’s the 13th-most targets for any safety in the league. He’s being targeted once every 9.4 snaps in coverage, amongst the 10th-highest rates among qualifying safeties.
That’s not to knock Fitzpatrick, by any means. For one thing, every outlet classifies a target differently, and none of them actually know definitively what every player’s coverage assignment might be on a given play. Somewhere in there, surely, is a play on which he looked bad only because we didn’t know what he was asked to do.
But here’s the simple truth: the only way this conversation ends is for Fitzpatrick to start picking up interceptions. It’s not the case that teams are actively avoiding him any more than they have in the past, but it’s also not true that he’s somehow playing poorly. If anything, it’s more about where he’s been playing than how, which is its own juggling act.