There are some positions in football wherein ‘quiet’ games are associated with a high quality of play, while it is exactly the opposite for others. Offensive linemen, for example, love to hear that they had a quiet day. A running back? Not so much.
The free safety position is one that can go either way. If you hear a free safety’s name a lot during a game, it’s either because he’s done something really bad or really good, and often enough it involves one team or another getting into the end zone.
Especially if you establish yourself as a playmaking free safety, however, quiet games can lull some into thinking that you’re not playing at a high level. Enter Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who had a ‘quiet’ first month of the season before returning the first pass attempt of the team’s last game for a pick six.
That was his first takeaway since the middle of last season after racking up a heaping of them, including four interceptions in a three-game stretch and a couple of touchdowns on top of that. But when offenses choose not to throw to you, you have to get more creative to get your opportunities, and that’s what the defense did for Fitzpatrick on that first pass.
“Without question, that’s Minkah being Minkah”, head coach Mike Tomlin said of that play on his eponymously-named show last night with Bob Pompeani. “You know, it gets somewhat routine. We get used to watching a guy like him deliver those type plays”.
“I know it’s his first significant one of the year”, he went on, “but we see it often, and see it often in practice-like settings, and usually that’s the springboard for it to happen repeatedly in games. We’re excited about where he is and what he’s able to do, and I think that’s just a snapshot of what’s to come”.
That’s certainly a welcome take for Steelers fans who would love to see Fitzpatrick nab a few more balls over the next couple of weeks in a pair of critical away games against five-win teams, first the Tennessee Titans and then the division-rival Baltimore Ravens, who have taken the AFC North and helped keep them out of the postseason for the past two years.
Through five games, the Steelers have nine takeaways so far, including eight interceptions. What they are not getting in comparison to last year are the forced fumbles and the bounces going their way. For a team that so actively practices punching the ball out, they have stunningly-low two forced fumbles on the year, with one recovery, back in week two.
But if it’s interceptions they have to get, then it’s good to have somebody like Fitzpatrick on the back end of the defense. Everybody else in the secondary short of Terrell Edmunds has also contributed to that interception total already, with Steven Nelson leading the charge after picking off two passes from Carson Wentz.