Do you like NFL players that make bold statistical predictions prior to a season getting underway? If so, you’ll probably love the prediction that Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick made Tuesday evening during a Steelers Nation United conference call with fans when asked to predict how many interceptions he would have during the 2020 season.
“I’m going to go with six, man,” Fitzpatrick said. “I had five last year. I’m trying to beat that, so I think I missed some opportunities last year, so I’m gonna go with six to seven.’
Last season Fitzpatrick, who was acquired by the Steelers via a Week 3 trade with the Miami Dolphins, intercepted five passes in his first seven games with the Steelers. And while it looked like Fitzpatrick would ultimately hit double-digit interceptions for the season based on his torrid pace, the former first-round draft pick out of Alabama failed to record an interception in the Steelers final seven games of the season and mainly because of opposing quarterbacks refusing to throw his way.
On Tuesday, Steelers defensive backs coach Teryl Austin was asked to comment on opposing offenses shying away from throwing at Fitzpatrick during the second half of the 2019 season and if the team is looking to scheme up ways to avoid a repeat of that in 2020.
“Obviously, I think he’s a phenomenal football player,” Austin said of Fitzpatrick. “[He] checks all the boxes. [He] made a lot of turnovers early and then teams tried to stay away from him. And I think that’s just a testament to, when you’re a good player, a lot of times you don’t get all that action.
“And so I think what we’ll do is we’ll maybe be able to move him around a little bit more, because getting him Week 3, like we did last year, was a little bit, you’re just trying to throw him in and just trying to make sure that we get lined up and all that other stuff.”
While not much has happened this offseason in the way of on-the-field practices due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Austin still believes enough got accomplished from a defensive standpoint that will allow Fitzpatrick make plays on that side of the football all throughout the season.
“But I think this offseason has been helpful for us and for him [Fitzpatrick] and for the group, because we’ve been able to talk some things out and really get down into the details of our defense,” Austin said Tuesday. “And I think that’ll give him [Fitzpatrick] a little bit more ability to maybe show up in a couple of different positions than he was last year, which will help him get around the ball a little bit more and keep that production.”
The last time that a Steelers player recorded at least seven interceptions in a single season was in 2010 when safety Troy Polamalu had seven. The Steelers made it to the Super Bowl that season and Polamalu wound up being voted the league’s Defensive Player of the Year as well.
The Steelers defense is expected to be exceptional good in 2020 and if that unit stays healthy, Fitzpatrick might very well have a legitimate shot at hitting his six or seven interception prediction.