clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Week 16 showed what the Steelers will look like with Terrell Edmunds gone

The Pittsburgh Steelers current safety room was on display against the Raiders

NFL: NOV 10 Rams at Steelers Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Immaculate Reception Anniversary game had a lot of meaning beyond just the play on the field. One of that game games minor subplots is the only game to see Damontae Kazee and Minkah Fitzpatrick play the main two safety roles. With the Steelers moving on from Terrell Edmunds that game takes on new significance, as the defense the Steelers have been running lined up with the players most likely to be starting at safety in 2023 come together to give us a great look at what that could look like for a full season.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 1st quarter, 8:14

Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) is lined up over the tight end to start the play.

First off, if you haven’t seen my other film rooms that discuss this, Minkah Fitzpatrick played strong safety the entire game in Week 16. While a lot of people are discussing Damontae Kazee as the strong safety, he didn’t play there. Terrell Edmunds is listed at 6’1” 216 lbs., Minkah Fitzpatrick at 6’1” 206 lbs., Damontae Kazee at 5’11” 174 lbs. Kazee is not a strong safety, and when he played for the Steelers in 2022 they used him almost exclusively as a deep safety, and never in the box safety roles Terrell Edmunds played.

On this play you can see Fitzpatrick isn’t hard to block for tight end Foster Moreau, and the Raiders get a nice gain on this dump off.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 1st quarter, 8:14

Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) is lined up behind the edge rusher to the top of the screen.

This is a common play for Terrell Edmunds, and Minkah does a good job getting in the backfield and turning this run into the heart of the defense. He misses the tackle, but we’ve seen Edmunds miss these too, the key is containing the run, and Fitzpatrick does that he can play strong safety.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 1st quarter, 6:46

Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) is lined up over the tight end to the bottom of the screen.

The Steelers are running a 3-safety set here, and Minkah Fitzpatrick is still playing Terrell Edmunds normal role. He does a good job in man cover on this play. Again, he can play the position. But look at Tre Norwood in deep zone. He’s the safety to the top of the screen. If that was Minkah Fitzpatrick, does anyone believe Hunter Renfrow scores on this play? Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the more reliable tacklers on the Steelers, Tre Norwood gets his lunch and dinner money stolen on this play as the Raiders score their only touchdown of the game.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 1st quarter, 3:40

Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) is lined up over the tight end to the top of the screen.

There are two tight ends to the top of the screen, and two defenders, Myles Jack and Minkah Fitzpatrick. They don’t talk before the snap, at the snap Fitzpatrick’s man is blocking, Jack’s man runs a route. Jack bites on the play action, Fitzpatrick watches his player block. No one covers Darren Waller. This isn’t something that never happened before, and I’d argue Terrell Edmunds’ speed shows up on these plays as he closes the gap to the receiver. Do we see a good number of plays go just like this with Edmunds at strong safety and Minkah Fitzpatrick making the tackle from his deep safety? Yes.

Minkah Fitzpatrick is either equal to Edmunds, and potentially offers a bit less on these plays than Edmunds does with his athleticism. Minkah is a much better football player, but in these roles he’s roughly equal to Terrell Edmunds.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 2nd quarter, 10:31

Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) is the deep safety to the top of the screen.

When the Steelers drop into a 2-deep coverage out of base personnel, Minkah Fitzpatrick is back in his usual spot and disrupts this entire play and Derek Carr throws the ball well away from Fitzpatrick. When Minkah Fitzpatrick is facing the play and coming forward to attack, opponents know not to throw the ball anywhere near him.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 2nd quarter, 0:42

Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) is in the middle of the screen, on the logo.

With Minkah Fitzpatrick in man coverage on the running back, it’s easy for the offense to control where he is, and here he is effectively eliminated from the play. If the opposing team can sacrifice a tight end, #3 receiver or running back to remove Fitzpatrick from the play and essentially have a 10v10, then that is a huge win for the offense.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 2nd quarter, 0:32

Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) is lined up over the tight end to the top of the screen.

Or in this case, you get Minkah Fitzpatrick in man on Darren Waller, and you throw at him for a big play. Minkah Fitzpatrick may be incredibly dangerous when he’s facing the play and reading the offense, but he’s no better than Terrell Edmunds in man coverage, and maybe even a bit worse.

But the real takeaway here is if Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the safeties on this play Derek Carr isn’t trying this throw. And you can see how the ball trails a bit toward the middle, if you replace the deep safety (Tre Norwood) with Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Carr still attempts this throw, this ball is intercepted.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 2nd quarter, 0:14

Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) is the deep safety to the top of the screen.

With the clock winding down the Raiders go after Fitzpatrick again for a touchdown shot. If this ball is better placed, the Raiders close out the half up 14-3. The Steelers have replaced Tre Norwood with Elijah Riley (#37) here, so this time I have to tell you that if you replace Elijah Riley with Minkah Fitzpatrick on this play, he’s not letting Waller past him and he has a shot at the ball. Heck, if you replace Kazee with Fitzpatrick I’d wager Fitzpatrick gets a hand on the ball.

With Fitzpatrick up in the box the Raiders were free to attack the Steelers deep coverage, and while it didn’t cost the Steelers the game, you can see the impact.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 3rd quarter, 11:48

Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) is the slot corner to the top of the screen.

And again the Raiders pull Fitzpatrick outside and attack the middle of the field. The tight end bobbles this one and Arthur Maulet pulls it in for a huge play that helped the Steelers win this game. And really, that’s the story of the Week 16 win over the Raiders. A lot of players stepped up and made plays for the Steelers to pull out the win.

Steelers vs. Raiders, 3rd quarter, 4:44

Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) is the deep safety to the top of the screen.

But to be honest, I think the Steelers have an easier time if they had Minkah Fitzpatrick in his usual role, like on this play.

The Steelers defense gets so much value out of Minkah Fitzpatrick reading the offense and attacking the play, and he wasn’t able to do that when he was filling the strong safety role Terrell Edmunds usually plays. You can see in the game stats how the position change limited his impact. Minkah Fitzpatrick is credited with giving up 44 yards in coverage, the highest on the team that week. He also only recorded 2 tackles, which ranked third among Steeler Safeties in that game. For the season Fitzpatrick was second on the team in tackles, averaging 4 solo and 7 total tackles a game.

If the Steelers are going to start both Damontae Kazee and Minkah Fitzpatrick at safety, Damontae Kazee is not the strong safety, and in the defense the Steelers have been playing the last 3 years, Minkah Fitzpatrick is not nearly as impactful when he’s playing strong safety.

And that is why I think the Steelers are revamping their coverage schemes for 2023. They almost have to, because otherwise paying Damontae Kazee more money than they ever paid Terrell Edmunds and letting Edmunds walk, only to ask their best player in the secondary to play out of position would be stupid.

I know a lot of people don’t think much of Terrell Edmunds, and disagree with me here, but I don’t see the value in Kazee over Edmunds unless the Steelers are changing the defense a good bit.

The crux of this issue isn’t in dime defense, when they usually go three safeties, they can find someone to be in the box in dime, but when they are in a 7-man front, both safeties have to be able to play deep zone coverage, but one of them also needs to be able to come down in the box and pick up a man cover assignment or step up in run support and take on blockers.

If your starting safeties are Kazee and Fitzpatrick, who is that guy?

This was the talking point on my “Cutting Room Floor” podcast which airs every Thursday morning. Check out the latest episode in the player below: