Acquiring players who would have knowledge of your opponents is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Bill Belichick and Tom Coughlin were among the most famous for doing it. That’s not exactly why the Pittsburgh Steelers gave up a first-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick last year, but it also didn’t hurt, based on the game he had against them.
While he only had two tackles against the Dolphins, Fitzpatrick also had two interceptions during the game, among the five that he recorded on the season, both from former teammate, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Did familiarity with the Dolphins’ offense help produce those takeaways? Not necessarily. During his appearance on Film Session, Kurt Warner asked the safety about what it’s like to play against your former team and trusting what they’re running.
“I would never guarantee it”, he said of whether or not a call would be the same as when he was there. “Nothing is guaranteed out there on the field, so I would say, it might be this. And they know that I was there, and they might change it, so if it happens, ‘oh, it is that’, so next time, they go for it”.
After that, they broke down his two interceptions, including one on a deep ball that he simply read based on the alignment, knowing that Jakeem Grant would be running deep. The second interception was off of a tip drill.
“They were running new stuff on us, because they knew I knew some stuff”, he said, noting that he wasn’t tipped off to what the play would be on that snap. Still, he relishes the tip drill. “I love seeing the ball in the air, just floating up there”, he said, adding, “I was looking to score. I really should’ve, I should’ve broken this last tackle, but I was just so excited”.
He didn’t score that week, but he would in each of the next two. He recorded a 96-yard pick six the following week against the Indianapolis Colts on a great read in the red zone. A week after that, he recovered a fumble forced by Javon Hargrave during a sack, which he scooped up for a score.
During the segment, he talked about how the Steelers’ defense remained pretty static from week to week in terms of what their scheme was. Given that he was an integral new cog that they wanted to ensure was comfortable, it’s reasonable to wonder if the scheme might vary more from week to week in his first full year in the system.