One of the most frustrating aspects of the 2021 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers so far, given what they had been able to produce over the past two seasons, has been their sluggish production in taking the ball away.
While they’ve gotten some in key moments—just this past week, T.J. Watt strip-sacked Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith in field goal territory in overtime, directly leading to a victory—the bottom line is that they have just five takeaways in six games, which ranks tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL.
Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick has been a huge part of their turnover production over the past two seasons. He has recorded nine interceptions in that span while forcing two fumbles and recovering another, even scoring three touchdowns. This year, he has zero interceptions or fumble recoveries, though he did force a fumble this past Sunday.
“Their expectations are probably more than ours, in terms of the type of football he plays, getting the ball back, turnovers, interceptions”, senior defensive assistant Teryl Austin said of his All-Pro safety’s struggles in the turnover department. “He’s had a couple that have hit him in the hands this year that he normally catches. That’s, I’m sure, frustrating to him, and you see him out here working, catching with the quarterbacks, catching off the machine, doing those things to get better. But it’ll come”.
One pass that he failed to intercept popped up into the air and was caught by Terrell Edmunds. Another he simply dropped and allowed to hit the ground. He has not even been officially credited with a pass defensed on the season—Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt are among the team leaders in that category.
It must be said, however, that Fitzpatrick did not intercept his first pass last season until week five, even if he did return it for a touchdown. He didn’t get his second until week nine. He actually didn’t even have a pass defensed before week five, as well.
In other words, we shouldn’t panic just yet. Can Fitzpatrick be playing better? Certainly. But there is still plenty of time left for him to make impact plays. He started last week by recording a forced fumble, though the Steelers have to do a better job of recovering the ones that they have been forcing.
Interestingly, the Steelers were asking Fitzpatrick to move around a lot more in the first couple of weeks of the season, but they have since let him settle back down to his free safety spot. As it seemingly turns out, that was merely a byproduct of their looking for answers in the slot, but they have identified some players since then, and haven’t needed to disrupt his rhythm.