If you haven’t read about Pete Prisco leaving Minkah Fitzpatrick off his top 100 NFL players list, or Minkah Fitzpatrick’s response to it, then good for you. If you want to read about the saga, this page is a good place to start, and it has links to earlier articles. When I heard Prisco defend snubbing Fitzpatrick by daring anyone to go watch the Chargers game and judge if Minkah Fitzpatrick was an elite safety with how he played in that game, I couldn’t resist.
The Week 6 Steelers vs. Chargers matchup is easily my pick for the most fascinating game of the season. Devlin Hodges gets his first start, the Steelers end up with both starting cornerbacks out, yet the Chargers struggled to get their wide receivers going, and in a game where the running backs accounted for more than two-thirds of the team passing yards, Donte Moncrief ends up with the longest pass to a WR on the day, and for goodness sake, the Steelers won a game on the West Coast. This game was important scheme-wise on both offense and defense, it was a great game to study.
It was also easily Minkah Fitzpatrick’s worst game as a member of the Steelers.
Pro Football Reference advanced stats have Minkah Fitzpatrick allowing 13 receptions for 163 yards last season, incredibly good numbers. Against the Chargers they credit him with 4 of those receptions, for 66 yards, almost double his second worst total of the season.
I have gone off about advanced stats before, because too often they are recorded sloppily and on many plays the reception is charged to whatever defender was closest to the catch. This causes Fitzpatrick to get the blame for plays like this one I’ve showed before:
Top of the screen, watch the CBs.
With Steven Nelson out, Artie Burns is on the left side of the defense, putting Joe Haden and Mike Hilton on the same side of the defense for a game. They both jump at the screen, leaving Fitzpatrick tasked with running down an easy completion.
Minkah Fitzpatrick in on the Chargers logo at midfield.
This is Minkah Fitzpatrick getting burned. But look at the linebackers. This play, like the one above, came from a drive late in the first half when Devin Bush was out. With Mark Barron also out, both Tyler Matakevich and Vince Williams are on the field.
With Matakevich taking Williams’ normal spot as the biggest liability, Vince Williams is forced into coverage, and you can see when he gets burned and alerts Joe Haden to the player breaking open. As Haden steps up to help out, Philip Rivers throws to the receiver Haden is leaving. Fitzpatrick got beat here, but there’s a reason for it.
This is one of my favorite images from that game.
Artie Burns is off the screen to the left, Kam Kelly is the dime back, Matakevich is the only inside linebacker in the play. Look where T.J. Watt is— he’s dropping into coverage because the situation was that bad. You can’t expect a lot of success when you have 8 players dropping into coverage, and T.J. Watt isn’t among the worst three.
No free safety in the world is going to have a good day under these conditions. Late in the game with Cameron Sutton in for Joe Haden, the Chargers were running route combos at Minkah Fitzpatrick, and whichever way he went Rivers just threw the other way. A team just can’t cover for that many players every single play, and when defenders get burned, the players behind them have to mop it up.
In Week 6, Fitzpatrick recorded 5 solo tackles, the second most of the season. He had 6 the previous week when the team had almost twice the tackles as this game. Like many analysts, Prisco’s ignores the difficulty of the assignment and looks at the results.
Don’t get me wrong, Week 6 was Minkah Fitzpatrick’s worst game of the season. He even dropped an interception.
Minkah Fitzpatrick is the deep safety to start the play.
That’s not something that we saw a lot from Fitzpatrick last season. He had a chance to seal the game for his seriously depleted defense and he literally dropped the ball.
Also notice the Steelers dropping 2 defensive backs deep while Minkah Fitzpatrick stays right near his starting area. This is the first game this showed up, but later in the season it would show up more in a much more refined (read actually practiced and not just thrown together on the fly) form.
Fortunately for Minkah the receiver in the second clip dropped the ball, and his team ended up winning the game after he dropped the interception. Minkah Fitzpatrick had a bad game by his standard, but in a game that Artie Burns played every snap and Kameron Kelly played the most snaps outside of the Week 1 disaster, the Steelers held Philip Rivers’ top two wide receivers to 105 yards on 16 combined targets. Minkah Fitzpatrick was a big part of that.
So while Minkah Fitzpatrick certainly had a bad day against the Chargers, It would be an overstatement at the least to discredit his impact on the team because of this one game, especially when his impact on the team’s defensive numbers is so incredible, his stats and film from the rest of the season show his individual excellence, and he was clearly seen as one of the top safeties, and top defenders overall, by just about everyone.