Are we going to see more of the Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebackers covering opposing team’s wide receivers throughout the 2021 season? Like it or not, at some point we are bound to and when we do, here’s to hoping the linebackers do a better job when it comes to handling such tasks. Assuming such bad matchups ultimately do continue to take place in 2021, Steelers inside linebacker Robert Spillane said on Thursday during his media session that safety Minkah Fitzpatrick is doing his part to help the inside linebackers when it comes to giving them coverage tips.
“Yeah. Minkah is so good at what he does back in the middle of the field and being a total cover guy, seeing the whole field, so when he comes and speaks to us, it’s from knowledge and ability on certain route concepts and certain receivers,” Spillane said. “So, he has a real knack for the game and understanding of; this guy, when he does this type of stem, you need to be aware for these two routes that he could run off of it. So, he’s always trying to feed information to different guys, whether it be in his secondary group or the linebacker group, and he’s a leader of the defense. So, we trust him, and we believe that he’s going to give us good information as he has since the day he got here.”
Fitzpatrick was mainly mentioned by Spillane because he was asked a few days ago about what happened last season when the team’s linebackers were asked to cover wide receivers. The All-Pro safety mostly put those negative results of those linebackers covering wide receivers plays on new backup players being forced to play in a scheme they probably didn’t fully understand due to them having to play because injuries within the position group.
“Part of it was we were missing our two starting inside linebackers, you know Devin [Bush] and [Robert] Spillane got hurt later in the season,” Fitzpatrick said a few days ago on the topic. “And then we had to bring in guys that didn’t understand the playbook as well and teams attacked that. They attacked those guys. When they spread them out, you’re throwing the three to the strength and the two to the weak side. And the guys that are there are linebackers and the guys that we had there were the new guys, guys that were new to the scheme, didn’t understand the concepts 110%. So, teams kind of exposed that.”
The Steelers will have starting inside linebacker Devin Bush back from his season-ending knee injury that he suffered in Week 6 last season and thus he’ll likely be the one that is mainly tasked with covering an opposing team’s wide receiver in 2021, when and if such a matchup occurs. Spillane seemingly didn’t stand a chance last season when he was asked to cover Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry in the team’s regular season finale, and he has since talked about being tasked with that job.
“That’s a matchup that we’ve won throughout the season many times,” Spillane said in a Zoom call back in March. “People want to look at one play and say that that’s the reason that we lost, or that is a mismatch. And it’s not. I had poor technique where I could have put my hands on a receiver, and I didn’t. And there’s nothing more to it. It’s not a crazy athleticism matchup. He doesn’t have a mismatch on size. It’s a minus for me on that play. And I know I need to be better, but it’s nothing that I can’t get done on a week-to-week basis.
“So, I’m looking forward to coming back and showing that underneath coverage is one of my best abilities. And like [Mike] Tomlin said, you gotta win when you’re put in those positions, so I’m looking forward to come back and prove to people that I can cover receivers all over the field.”
While I respect everything that Spillane has said on the topic of linebackers covering wide receivers as part of the Steelers defense, and him specifically, here’s to hoping that we don’t have to see him do it anymore in 2021. Bush, on the other hand, might very well have to cover a wide receiver a few times and when and if he does, hopefully Fitzpatrick’s tips will help him having a fighter’s chance in those particular matchups.