When you set the bar high for yourself, you are judged by a high standard as a result. That was the pressure facing Minkah Fitzpatrick entering the 2020 season after he recorded five interceptions and two fumble recoveries last season, scoring two touchdowns in the process.
While he was a first-team All-Pro in 2019 as a result of his success, he still finished the last several games of the year without turning the ball over, in large part due to the simple fact that opposing teams are not throwing in his direction. He was also ‘quiet’ during the first four games of this season.
It didn’t take him long yesterday to wake up and silence his critics, as he jumped in front of a Baker Mayfield third-down pass on the opening drive—the first pass of the day attempted by the Cleveland Browns—band returned it for a touchdown.
Nobody in the NFL has more takeaways since the start of the 2019 season than does Fitzpatrick, and he is looking to keep his lead in that category. The Steelers defense has now taken the ball away at least once in every game this season, almost all of them being interceptions, entering the day with seven takeaways in total, Fitzpatrick’s being number eight.
The Steelers invested heavily in the safety, trading away their 2020 first-round draft pick in order to acquire him last year two games into the season. At the time, he was just 18 games into his career as a former 11th-overall draft pick with plenty of potential, and he seemed to be living up to it already right off the bat. He forced a fumble and recorded an interception in his first game with the team.
Fitzpatrick was largely credited with being the finishing touch for a defense on the cusp of greatness, finishing last season as one of the top units in the league. They didn’t quite pick up where they left off, but have had moments of greatness all season.
The pass rush has been the most consistent, and it started well yesterday with a third-down sack on the second drive of the game, Devin Bush getting one on the third drive. The takeaways are coming as well, as they got two more interceptions on Mayfield on the day. They’re now tied for the second-most interceptions behind only the Indianapolis Colts—and they’ve played one fewer game, of course.
As for Fitzpatrick, he wasn’t very statistically active on the day outside of that interception, registering just one assisted tackle after that, but as we should understand by now, the stat sheet never tells the full story. The Browns averaged under six yards per pass attempt and 3.4 yards per rush and scored just seven points. The trenches had a lot to do with that, but the threat of a free safety is key as well.