After recording four interceptions in his first six games with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being acquired from the Miami Dolphins in a Week 3 trade, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was targeted just twice over the final eight weeks of the season as opposing offenses simply stopped throwing the ball anywhere near him. That stat came courtesy of our own defensive charting done by Alex Kozora.
That lack of production from Fitzpatrick during the second half of the 2019 season now has the Steelers prepared to move their All-Pro and Pro Bowl free safety around in the defense a little more in 2020 instead of keeping him mostly anchored deep as a post safety in single-high looks. Fitzpatrick, who is in Orlando, FL this week preparing to play in the 2020 Pro Bowl, the first of his NFL career, admitted in an interview that he’ll likely be moving around more in the Steelers defense next season and why.
“Yeah, we’ll definitely add to the arsenal of what I can do and moving around and stuff,” Fitzpatrick said. “Because that last half of the season, you know, I didn’t really have too much production. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my job, it was just because quarterbacks were just staying out of the middle of the field, staying away from my half when I was in a half.
“And you just want to be more involved in the game, you know what I’m saying? Sometimes you have to move around to be more involved.”
Fitzpatrick also admitted that he recognized during the second half of the season how opposing offenses were avoiding throwing at him.
“I mean, it was noticeable,” Fitzpatrick said. “I mean, I was finishing a game with just a tackle or two, you know what I’m saying? And then they came out with a stat, I forgot who it was, or if it’s 110% accurate, but that I was only targeted two times in the last eight games of the season. I felt like that, you know what I’m saying?”
So, wasn’t Fitzpatrick not wanting to move around in the defense the main reason why he wanted out of Miami after just one season? Well, sort of. The Dolphins, however, were trying to use Fitzpatrick down in the box and very close to the line of scrimmage like a linebacker way too much for the liking of the Alabama product.
While very good safeties do need to be versatile, meaning being able to play both center field and in the box, and sometimes as a dime defender, it’s still smart to play mostly to the player’s strengths. In Fitzpatrick’s case, that’s having him play deep in either single-high or two-high defenses.
Fitzpatrick was asked if moving him around more next season will essentially serve as him being hid more from opposing quarterbacks. He had a great answer for such a silly question.
“Not hide me, but a quarterback can’t say I can’t throw at him,” Fitzpatrick quickly replied. “Because if you line me up over their number one target on third down, whether it’s in man-to-man or zone coverage, he’s going to look at him because it’s his first read. But when I’m in a half or in the middle of the field, you could just say, I’m just not going to throw to that area. Or you could scheme up that week, all right, on these important downs, we’re not going to go after 39. But when you move around, you can’t really navigate your offense away from a player.”
So, will we see Fitzpatrick moved around more in 2020? I’m guessing so and especially on key down and distances and situations. Moving him around more, however, would likely result in fellow Steelers safety Terrell Edmunds having to play deep more in single-high looks, which certainly hasn’t been a strength of his to date. Regardless, moving Fitzpatrick around more in 2020 will hopefully lead to the safety being able to make more splash plays throughout the entire season and not just in a few games.