Former Pittsburgh Steelers’ general manager Kevin Colbert’s arguably most unorthodox moved turned out to be one of his best. That is, Colbert traded the team’s 2020 first-round pick for star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick from the Miami Dolphins, a move that culminated in an anchor for the team’s defensive backfield that recently re-signed long-term. As the team prepares to face the New York Jets in a Week 4 matchup, head coach Robert Saleh as well as offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur had some high praise for the star safety when asked about Fitzpatrick.
“Phenomenal football player,” Saleh said when asked about the Steelers’ star safety on a Friday press conference. “Very extinctive, not necessarily undisciplined in any sense of the imagination, but sometimes he is not going to do his job because he knows where the play is going, so he is going to do a little bit more. He’s an extinctual, he’s a badass, let’s put it that way, so it’s going to be a great challenge for the offense.”
As the coordinator for the 2019 San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl defense, Saleh is widely regarded as a strong defensive mind. In doing so, he coached the likes of defensive end Nick Bosa, corner Richard Sherman, among other star defenders. As such, hearing high praise from Saleh speaks to the respect that Fitzpatrick continues to garner around the league, as well as the significance of Colbert’s trade.
As LaFleur and the Jets’ offense prepares to face the Steelers’ defense, the offensive coordinator made it a point to praise Fitzpatrick as a challenge to their game plan, stating that he is “arguably one of the best safeties in the game” when asked during a Thursday press conference.
Fitzpatrick began the 2022 season with a Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals with a pick-six on reigning AFC champion quarterback Joe Burrow. He has not since slowed down, and is currently the top-ranked safety according to Pro Football Focus.
As Jets quarterback Zach Wilson prepares to make his season debut on Sunday, he will do so on the road. The team has no shortage of talent at the receiver position, as it recently drafted Garrett Wilson out of Ohio State to pair with Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and others. Wilson, who is 1-5 on the road, will need to be careful with the ball.
There is a lot to be said for Fitzpatrick’s reliance on instincts and its contribution to the team’s defense. Dating back to 2019, he arguably changed the team’s philosophy almost single-handedly. Fitzpatrick, who was acquired after a 33-3 Week 1 loss to the New England Patriots, quickly displayed his confidence in his instincts, making several plays on the ball for a Steelers’ defense that severely lacked turnovers. This prompted the Steelers to become a more defensively-reliant team in the past several seasons, which remains the case this season. While this was far from a one-man job, Fitzpatrick’s role as the anchor of the secondary cannot be understated.
A safety that sets himself apart by relying on his instincts is far from a foreign concept for the Steelers. Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu made a name for himself by doing this, racking up countless highlight plays where he diverts from the intended defensive scheme. Having recently re-signed long-term, Fitzpatrick will be a Steeler for years to come, and they will need his contribution on Sunday to avoid a 1-3 start.