While he downplayed the significance of playing against the team for whom he logged his first 18 caps, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick certainly seemed to have a big of an edge to his game last night against the Miami Dolphins, in his fifth start in the black and gold.
And perhaps it wasn’t all internally motivated. Teammate Bud Dupree told reporters after the game that Dolphins players were “talking trash” in Fitzpatrick’s direction early on in the game. The majority of the players on Miami’s current roster would have been teammates with him after he was selected 11th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Bud Dupree says Dolphins were talking trash on Minkah Fitzpatrick early on.
— Jacob Klinger (@Jacob_Klinger_) October 29, 2019
The second-year player told reporters last week that he still talks to many players from the Dolphins and that it’s not like they’re all of a sudden going to start hating him because he’s playing for another team. Perhaps that wasn’t entirely true for everyone on the roster. Or perhaps it was just gamesmanship.
It certainly didn’t help that the Steelers got off to an early 14-0 hole. But Fitzpatrick had a big hand in them climbing out of it. He picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick twice during the game, and Pittsburgh scored two of its three touchdowns on the night off of those two turnovers—one of them coming on a 97-yard drive to close the first half and take a lead they would never relinquish.
Overall, the safety didn’t light of the stats sheet. Outside of his pair of interceptions, he registered just two tackles after averaging more than five per game in his first four with the Steelers. But the Dolphins only attempted 14 runs outside of scrambles, with Fitzpatrick finishing with 34 pass attempts and being sacked four times.
The pressure that the defense was able to put on Fitzpatrick had a lot to do with his averaging just 5.6 yards per attempt, but the other Fitzpatrick’s play at free safety, often back playing the deep middle of the field, was also limiting, forcing the quarterback to pull the ball down a number of times on passes he might otherwise have let go of.
The Steelers offered high praise for their starting free safety during the week leading up to the game, with head coach Mike Tomlin saying on his weekly show that he had “without question” lived up to the expectations that they had for him when acquiring him, and that he required little to no maintenance.
He now has three interceptions and a forced fumble in the five games since joining Pittsburgh. The Steelers are 3-2 in those games, with the two losses both being close games, and the turnovers piling up, which isn’t entirely a coincidence.