Now that the 2020 regular season has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: After being held without producing a takeaway for nine consecutive games dating back to last season, Minkah Fitzpatrick reminded everybody against the Browns just how impactful he can be as a defensive playmaker when placed in the position to actually make plays.
The Steelers gave up a first-round pick to get Minkah Fitzpatrick via trade about 13 months ago. He has since made the first-team All-Pro team, recording five interceptions and two fumble recoveries a year ago, among the most takeaways by a single player in all of the NFL in 2019.
But he was held without one over the final five weeks of the 2019 season as teams began to increasingly shy away from his area of coverage. After all, he was coming off a three-game stretch in which he recorded four interceptions, including a pick six, so it’s understandable if teams didn’t want a part of that.
By and large, the theme of teams doing their best not to put the ball in Fitzpatrick’s range has continued this year, but Baker Mayfield made a crucial mistake on his first pass attempt of Sunday’s game, failing to spot the free safety jumping down into coverage over the middle. He picked it off and brought it in for a defensive touchdown, the fourth of his career (and third with the Steelers).
Outside of that play, his impact on the season hasn’t been as obvious, but he affects the game in ways that you don’t see in the stat sheets, which is what good free safeties do. They are trying to find ways to goad quarterbacks into throwing into his coverage and giving him the opportunity to make plays, but narrowing the field where opposing teams can throw is a big piece of the puzzle as well, and he has been doing that.