The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t given fans much to write home about this season, unless you hate your family or your family hates the Steelers. They are just 2-6 and at the bottom of the AFC North, behind a Cleveland Browns team that has played a backup quarterback all season up to this point, and both the offense and defense rank among the worst units in the league in key statistical areas.
Bright spots have been few and far between. Quite frankly, a lot of fans would probably tell you that outside of a small handful of George Pickens catches, some of their favorite moments of the season have just been watching rookie undrafted free agent bowling ball Jaylen Warren’s ‘effort’ plays.
While there have been good performances here and there from the likes of Cameron Heyward and Alex Highsmith, there hasn’t been anybody consistent this season. Not even, sadly, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Nevertheless, he’s surely been the best the Steelers have had this year.
And he is the only Steeler who had made Pro Football Focus’ midseason All-Pro team, on the second team along with Malik Hooker, behind Antoine Winfield Jr. and Derwin James. There are a number of plays—big plays—that he’ll be the first to tell you he wishes he had back. Nobody has been more down on him for the plays he’s missed this year than he has.
But he’s also been among the few for the Steelers in any phase of the game who has provided any kind of spark, as his three interceptions on the season have. He had a pick-six in the season opener, their first points of the season, and one of only two games they’ve actually managed to win.
After setting a team defensive back record last season with 124 tackles, Fitzpatrick is sitting at a more leisurely 45 tackles through eight games (seven for him, missing one game) but is still on pace to surpass 100 on the year. He also has six passes defensed, only one fewer than he had all of last season, the only year since he joined Pittsburgh that he failed to earn All-Pro honors.
But he’s also failed to make plays against, for example, the Buffalo Bills and the Philadelphia Eagles in recent weeks in which his failure to appropriately intervene led to touchdowns. Plays we might be accustomed to seeing him make. Plays he himself is accustomed to making.
Former Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who got to watch him play up close for the past three years, said earlier this season following the blowout in Philadelphia he knew “it’s gonna be one of those kind of days” when he saw that play not being made.
The good news is that he and the rest of the team have another nine games to try to redeem themselves, no matter how hard fans root against that very thing because they want to see the Steelers tank and maximize their draft capital. Well, for better or worse, this team is going to try to go 9-0 the rest of the way. We’ll see where it takes us in January.