Ahead of Sunday’s Wild Card Round matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium at 8:15 p.m., all eyes will be on one Steelers’ defender, and it’s not the one you’d expect.
T.J. Watt is undoubtedly a game-wrecker, one that the Chiefs will have to gameplan against, but according to NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks, the Steelers’ biggest X-factor and largest threat to the Chiefs in the Wild Card round is Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The former first-round draft pick and two-time All-Pro safety hasn’t quite had the statistical season he’s had in the past, causing some frustrations from the fan base, but Fitzpatrick has still been an exceptional player for the Steelers’ defense, especially from a run defense standpoint, serving as an extra linebacker coming downhill to lead the Steelers in tackles with 124 on the season.
Playing an important position such as safety on a defense where he can truly affect the outcome of games, Brooks is eyeing the former All-Pro as the key for the Steelers’ defense in the postseason.
So many plays late in the Steelers' win easily forgotten with how bonkers the ending was. How about Minkah Fitzpatrick's breakup against Brown.
If he doesn't punch this ball out, Ravens have it at Pittsburgh's 48 with 25 seconds and two TOs. They win the game right there. pic.twitter.com/Wmz89h4pdS
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) January 9, 2022
“Yeah, Minkah’s a former first-round pick with two All-Pro nods, but I just had to include him in this file, given how crucial a role he plays,” Brooks writes. “The safety is one of the most important defenders on a defense that will need to play A+ football in order for Pittsburgh to advance in the tournament. Fitzpatrick is an instinctive center fielder with a nose for the ball and enough range to cover the field from numbers to numbers. As the rare ballhawk with big-hit ability, Fitzpatrick could be huge as a pass and run defender, alternating between the deep middle and the box, based on play calling.”
Fitzpatrick has really covered up a number of issues on the back end, using his impressive closing speed, outstanding instincts and overall range to take away potential big plays from opposing offenses, allowing the Steelers’ defense to live to fight another down.
The turnover numbers aren’t there like they were in 2019 and 2020, but the fourth-year safety remains as productive as ever and should still be in discussions regarding the top 5 safeties in the league.
If the Steelers hope to upset the Chiefs on Sunday inside Arrowhead Stadium, Fitzpatrick will have to play a prominent role in the upset from the defense’s perspective, forcing a turnover or two, or coming through with a handful of key plays in big spots, much like he did against the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens down the stretch.