The Pittsburgh Steelers have taken the ball away just three times so far through four games. They rank just 21st, currently, in takeaways on the season, with one interception and two fumble recoveries, though they also have a blocked punt returned for a touchdown—and they should have a blocked field goal also returned for a touchdown.
Still, the defense that recorded 27 takeaways last year and 38 the year before is not showing up this year, and the players know it’s on them. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick holds himself particularly accountable, having had at least a couple of opportunities to secure interceptions that he failed to make.
“I could’ve had it. Could’ve, should’ve, same thing”, he said of his failed opportunities, one of which came on Sunday in Green Bay. “The same thing happened last week, the one that bounced off my face that [Terrell Edmunds] caught. I was about to play through the receiver’s hands and go for the ball, and then he doesn’t go for it, and it goes through his hands and it comes up on me fast. It’s a tough catch, but it’s one I’ve got to have”.
Fitzpatrick recorded four interceptions last season, and five the year before. He did not have any interceptions, however, through the first four games of the season in 2020. He also did not record any during the final six weeks of the season. They can come in bunches. But everybody has to contribute.
“One, just doing our job. Two, catching everything that comes your way”, the safety said of the keys of turning the ball over. “I’ve had multiple that I should’ve caught; with other people, the same thing. There are plays where we could’ve punched at the ball where we didn’t punch at it. I think it just boils down to us doing our job, being in the right position, not trying to do anything extra, because that’s when you get beat for big splash plays”.
Quality chances at interceptions have been pretty scarce so far this season, but the Steelers have been punching the ball out for fumbles. They do have six forced fumbles, including two by T.J. Watt, though they have only recovered two of them, one of which came on Sunday, Watt recovering a fumble forced by Chris Wormley.
This defense understands its position within the team. It’s not enough to just get off the field. They also have to make plays. They’ve talked about how their standards have changed with the way the offense has been playing, and failing to put up points.
Simply put, they have to do whatever it takes to win, and that includes giving the offense short fields, and even putting points on the board themselves. They have scored three defensive touchdowns in each of the past two seasons. Fitzpatrick has three of those touchdowns.