The Pittsburgh Steelers currently rank tied for 29th in the NFL in defensive takeaways, recording only five through the first six games of the season, though their most recent takeaway was rather significant, a strip-sack fumble recovery in overtime that set up the game-winning field goal.
Of those five takeaways, only two have come via the interception, which is the third-lowest mark in the league, and those interceptions have come from strong safety Terrell Edmunds and cornerback James Pierre—not traditionally primary sources of takeaways.
Where is the production from their biggest playmakers? T.J. Watt has been forcing his fumbles, of course, but what about free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick? He intercepted nine passes in the previous two seasons combined, with a couple of forced fumbles and fumble recoveries, with three defensive touchdowns. He has only one forced fumble so far this year, which came in their last game.
Asked about Fitzpatrick’s lack of turnover production, specifically in the interception department, head coach Mike Tomlin called it “circumstantial” during his pre-game press conference yesterday. “Stay tuned. Minkah is a playmaker. He makes plays. I’m sure when we’re looking back at this, you won’t have that question”.
To his point, Fitzpatrick did not record an interception last season until the fifth game of the year, and did not get his second until the eighth game. He also did not record another during the final six games of the season, though that does mean he has now gone 12 consecutive games without intercepting a pass.
With that being said, there is no reason to believe that he is in some way no longer capable of doing what he has previously done, or that his prior production was somehow a fluke. It is reasonable to expect that he will in due time find himself around the ball often enough to pick off a couple of passes.
That starts with the pass rush building itself back up again after a lull during their three-game losing streak, now that their edge defenders are getting healthy. “When that pocket is hot, good things usually happen for us”, Tomlin said. “One feeds the other. There’s codependency there, certainly”.
Fitzpatrick does have 47 tackles so far on the season, targeting a career-high if he continues this pace. But in spite of the fact that he is being targeted more, he hasn’t been as close to the ball as he typically has been, and in fact, he has yet to be officially credited with a pass defensed, even though that seems to be in error, given that he has dropped a couple of interception opportunities.