While the Los Angeles Chargers were able to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers last year by scoring on a few plays that never would have happened under normal circumstances—including two that should have been negated by penalties—that game is still best remembered more for the visuals than anything.
Specifically, the visual of Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen making receptions while being covered by inside linebackers like Jon Bostic and L.J. Fort.
That won’t happen this year, say the Steelers. Even the Steelers who weren’t Steelers yet.
Asked by Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about the assignment of covering Allen, free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick said, “when you do your job, it’s not tough”, but he added that it is “if you put a linebacker on him” before saying that “we don’t plan on doing that this week”.
Not only was Fitzpatrick not a member of the Steelers last year when they played the Chargers, he didn’t even begin the 2019 season with him. Pittsburgh acquired him via trade with the Miami Dolphins heading into the third week of the season, so Sunday will only be his fourth game with the black and gold.
A versatile defensive back capable of playing just about anywhere outside of the front five, the coaching staff has been consciously limiting what they ask of him in terms of assignment diversity as he learns their system and gets comfortable with his surroundings, but this is one game where we can see things start to expand.
“It’s a linebacker — it’s not their job, not really what they do”, Fitzpatrick said of covering a wide receiver, after reviewing last year’s tape of that game. “He’s just catching the ball and running, and he’s a good catch-after-run guy. Just putting our linebackers in a better position so they don’t have to do that, that will be one of the things we focus on doing”.
Now, just about any defense is, every once in a while, going to end up with a linebacker on a wide receiver in coverage as a result of some sort of schematic that they’ve drawn up, intended for a quick disruption that would make the coverage irrelevant in the first place.
What happened last year in Pittsburgh obviously went beyond that, and was in large part a product of them being down their top three options at dimebacker in Morgan Burnett, Nat Berhe, and Cameron Sutton.
“For the most part, if you game-plan the right way and you don’t have a linebacker on him, it’s just about doing your job. If you do your job, it’s easy”, Fitzpatrick said. Let’s hope it looks easy on the field once they get out there. The safety will probably have to be a big part of that.