Great safety play has been a deciding factor in overall defensive greatness in Pittsburgh for many years. Troy Polamalu, if not for Covid-19, would have been enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame this year. Polamalu is one of the best safeties to ever play the game and helped man the middle of the Steelers defense from 2003-2014.
Since his departure, the Steelers have been looking for a replacement. Multiple players have gone through the Steelers defensive backfield since Polamalu’s retirement. Sean Davis, Morgan Burnett, Mark Barron, and others have all tried to help fill the role of Polamalu to little avail.
Last year, the Steelers may have finally found a replacement in Minkah Fitzpatrick. With five interceptions and three fumble recoveries, Fitzpatrick burst onto the scene in Pittsburgh. 2020 has been a slower start, however, for Fitzpatrick. That was until week 6.
Great Safety Play
Minkah Fitzpatrick received a grade, by Pro Football Focus, of 94.1 for his play against Cleveland in week 6. More importantly, Fitzpatrick recorded his first turnover of the season.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) October 18, 2020
Not only did he record his first turnover of the season he scored his third touchdown for the Steelers in just 19 games.
There has been plenty of discussion about Fitzpatrick’s slow start to the season, but it is likely due to opposing game plans. Teams have seen the play of Minkah Fitzpatrick and seem to be shying away from throwing the ball his way.
That has limited his chances of making big plays. It may also result in the Steelers moving Fitzpatrick around more on the defense to force offensive coordinators to adjust their gameplans mid-game if they hope to avoid throwing his way.
In recent years the Steelers have struggled to cover tight ends. With the league moving towards more athletic pass-catching tight ends this has become an issue in Pittsburgh. To combat that the Steelers are using Terrell Edmunds in man coverage against opposing tight ends. So far, so good for their third-year safety.
Here is a list of production against Edmunds so far this season by opposing tight ends:
- Week 1 – Evan Engram: 2 targets, 0 receptions, 0 yards
- Week 2 – Noah Fant: 0 receptions, 0 yards
- Week 3 – Jordan Akins: 0 receptions, 0 yards
- Week 5 – Zach Ertz: 1 target, 1 reception, 7 yards
- Week 6 – Austin Hooper: 0 targets, 0 receptions, 0 yards / David Njoku: 1 target: 0 receptions, 0 yards
Sure, Edmunds hasn’t recorded a takeaway since week 4 of the 2018 season, but his play against tight ends this year is very promising. If he can continue to shut down opposing tight ends it will go a long way in the Steelers defense continuing to play the way they are.
In week 7, Edmunds will have another tough match-up with Jonnu Smith. Smith has been one of Ryan Tannehill’s favorite targets for the Tennessee Titans. He has two two-touchdown games already this season and shutting him down would take away Tannehill’s safety net underneath.