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Steelers 2020 Review: Week 11, Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick rule the field

The Steelers safeties are the backbone of the Steelers defense.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

This is a Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick film room. But mostly we are going to be watching Terrell Edmunds. During those plays feel free to look at Minkah Fitzpatrick being left alone and intentionally avoided. It’s how he spends most of his time on the football field, so we’ll spend more effort showing what Terrell Edmunds adds to the pair, and how the two of them combined make like so much easier for the rest of the defense.

Week 11, 1st quarter, 14:18. Terrell Edmunds slides in from the right side of the screen as the clip starts.

That’s Terrell Edmunds taking on a double team, including an offensive lineman in run support. He driven back a few yards, but ends up making the tackle.

3rd quarter, 0:37. Terrell Edmunds (#34) is to the right of the screen.

And here he covers the backside of the play and makes a solid tackle on a tough running back. Edmunds isn’t a linebacker, but he can fill that role when the situation calls for it. As a run stopping strong safety, he’s very good.

That “extra linebacker” is a big benefit when the Steelers go to their nickel and dime packages, Edmunds and Hilton both were able to make plays in the run game like linebackers, while playing defensive back.

1st quarter, 6:47. Terrell Edmunds is the safety to the bottom of the screen, stepping up as the play starts.

Edmunds steps up as Mike Hilton shows his blitz is coming and he picks up Hiltons’ receiver when Hilton blitzes. On this play you also get to see him switch with Minkah Fitzpatrick when that receiver runs a deep route to the middle of the field. The Steelers safeties cover for blitzing players, and for each other. The Steelers run a lot of switches, and both safeties do well on them.

1st quarter, 0:25. Terrell Edmunds is the slot defender to the top of the screen.

The first two plays of this film room were in nickel defense. This is the Steelers 3-4 defense. When the Jaguars line up 4 of their players as receivers, Terrell Edmunds switches roles to play man cover like he’s the nickelback. When Minkah Fitzpatrick commits to helping Robert Spillane it puts Edmunds on an island on a deep route. His speed shows up here, and it would take a deep throw into a small window to beat Edmunds here.

On this play Edmunds is an extra cornerback, letting the Steelers adjust with ease to a heavier set turned 4 wide.

Edmunds is a jack of all trades, he may not have any of them mastered, but his ability to handle all of them at an above-the-bar level allows the Steelers a lot of freedom in play calling and personnel usage, because Edmunds can change roles to counter how the offense looks to attack the Steelers defense.

The true value of the Steelers safeties goes beyond their individual talents.

2nd quarter, 7:00. Terrell Edmunds is the safety to the top of the screen, Minkah Fitzpatrick to the bottom.

Watch how Edmunds and Fitzpatrick adjust their roles as the formation changes, and then as the play develops. The strong side safety is going to play up closer to the line, the weak side back farther as the deepest defender. They change roles with the motion, but as the screen play starts to develop they switch back. There’s no talking here, they see the play and move, and they move together, seeing the play and reacting in unison. Edmunds and Fitzpatrick showed a lot of growth as a duo in 2020, their second season together. Year three should be even better.

2nd quarter, 3:09. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the deep safety (in the end zone to start the play), Terrell Edmunds is on the line of scrimmage, farthest to the top of the screen.

Edmunds is a free blitzer, Keith Butler always does a great job designing the Steelers blitzes, and this time it is Edmunds who goes unblocked. Tyson Alualu gets a hand on the ball and Minkah Fitzpatrick corrals it for the interception. With Mike Hilton no longer in Pittsburgh, Terrell Edmunds is the best blitzing defensive back on the roster. It will be interesting to see if his blitzing increases in 2021.

2nd quarter, 0:36, Terrell Edmunds is the deep safety toward the top of the screen.

Vince Williams is matched up on a tight end, Terrell Edmunds is lined up really deep so they attack there. The window was there, Jake Luton just overthrew his target and Terrell Edmunds gets a gift to break his 38 game interception drought. This moment mattered because those kind of droughts can get in a players head, and the relief and joy at finally getting another interception was evident after the play. It’s always good to get that monkey off your back.

3rd quarter, 12:00. Minkah Fitzpatrick is the safety to the top of the screen, Terrell Edmunds to the bottom.

The Jaguars come out in 11 personnel, but put end up in empty, with the tight end the receiver farthest to the top of the screen and the running back farthest to the bottom.

Talking heads love to point out plays where Vince Williams and Robert Spillane are matched up on the other team’s top receivers, but you won’t see them show this play, or most of the plays when those “inexcusable” mismatches occur, because they end up like this.

The toughest matchup on the field actually goes to Cameron Sutton, who has to cover a wide receiver by himself. Steven Nelson is covering a running back, Joe Haden a tight end, and the two linebackers are the underneath half of bracket coverage with the Steelers safeties backing them up. Minkah Fitzpatrick cheating under his man’s route forces the throw to be high and long, and it falls incomplete. A ball thrown on target to the wide receiver would end up in Fitzpatrick’s hands.

Especially look at Vince Williams and Terrell Edmunds on the slot receiver to the bottom. Williams has short coverage with inside leverage, Edmunds deep with outside leverage. D.J. Chark shut down by Vince Williams? Yep.

4th quarter, 9:12. Terrell Edmunds is the deep safety, Minkah Fitzpatrick is more shallow.

The Jaguars are trailing 17-3 with 9 minutes left, the game isn’t over and it’s not desperation time. It’s 2nd and 9. The Steelers drop into man defense with Edmunds deep and Fitzpatrick playing a robber role. All the corners have heavy outside leverage, daring the Jaguars to throw anything into the middle of the field. The Jaguars throw against the leverage instead, and Justin Layne gets to look good on film.

4th quarter, 8:41. Terrell Edmunds is the safety to the top of the screen.

The next play the Steelers drop into their cover-3 variant where the safeties play the middle of the field, and you can see why this defense is so incredibly effective. There’s a high and low defender on each sideline, a really deep middle defender, and anything underneath or to the middle has to get through Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds follows a gift pick earlier in the game with a really nice one on this play, and the safeties have three interceptions on the day.

Edmunds and Fitzpatrick create large areas of threat that shrink pass windows and deny the most valuable parts of the field. Making life easier for everyone else on defense.

4th quarter, 6:05. Minkah Fitzpatric is the safety to the top of the screen.

Robert Spillane on a tight end isn’t really a mismatch, and with Minkah Fitzpatrick backing him up, you’d have to be a rookie 6th round pick to throw that ball. Oh hi Jake Luton, thank you for another gift throw and the Steelers first game where multiple players recorded multiple interceptions since 1995.

It took a quarterback willing to make those throws to really show why the Steelers safeties are more valuable than their stats. Most of the time the other team is avoiding them. Jake Luton didn’t.

Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton are no longer on the team, half of the main four cornerbacks are gone. But in 2021 the Steelers safeties will still be back there making life easier for whoever lines up at cornerback, and for the rest of the defense.