With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Minkah Fitzpatrick will have four or more interceptions again in 2022 after readjusting to focusing on playing free safety and not worrying as much about run support.
Explanation: The 2021 season was a bit of a tumultuous one for Minkah Fitzpatrick due to the turnover around him in the secondary, forcing him into moving around into various roles, which had a negative effect on his game. The poor run defense also made him cheat into the box for run support more frequently.
Fitzpatrick recorded at least four interceptions in each of his first two seasons with the Steelers, showing that he is more than capable of delivering in that kind of bulk. Last year, he didn’t get his first interception until Week 12, which was around the time that they were able to start having him settle back into a free safety role. He had one in back-to-back weeks.
And then he had to start playing in the box more. He posted 26 tackles over a span of two weeks, mostly against the run, after that. But with Tyson Alualu back and Larry Ogunjobi signed, and Myles Jack in for Joe Schobert and Devin Bush healthier (and with options to replace him if he struggles), the run defense shouldn’t need as much cheating.
Turnovers are never a stable statistic. Even Marcus Peters, probably the best ballhawk in the game right now, doesn’t always hit his mark. He had three interceptions in 2018 despite starting every game. There’s no promising that Fitzpatrick will automatically hit four. After all, he only had two as a rookie. He’s had fewer than four as often as he’s had four or more.
Remember, Fitzpatrick (along with Joe Haden) in 2019 became the first Steelers defenders to have more than three interceptions in a single season since Troy Polamalu had seven in 2010. They went nearly a decade without seeing anybody put up those numbers. It can’t be counted upon that they just magically reappear.