He got burned on the play.
Actually, that's a little misleading. Minkah Fitzpatrick could have been like the coyote from the road runner cartoons, on a rocket, and he still might not have caught Henry Ruggs III on his 61-yard touchdown catch Sunday.
With the Steelers blitzing, Fitzpatrick first looked to tight end Darren Waller on the boundry, and that was all Ruggs needed after blowing past cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. The safety kept up as best he could, but Next Gen Stats had Ruggs at a career-best 21.42 mph top speed.
Meanwhile, cornerback Joe Haden wasn't playing because of a groin injury, so the back end was vulnerable. T.J. Watt was out (groin), along with linebacker Devin Bush (groin), while the defensive line was already a mess before Tyson Alualu suffered a broken ankle. So there went the pass rush and a lot of the run defense.
Regardless, Fitzpatrick took the blame during his postgame press conference (pure veteran move), but the truth is he probably never had a chance during the 26-17 loss at Heinz Field. The coaches also couldn't use him like they wanted due to being so shorthanded.
During the previous week, against Buffalo, Fitzpatrick was all over the place. He lined up at free safety, nickel (where he played the most at Alabama) and dime.
"Minkah is good enough to play anywhere we've got on the field," defensive coordinator Keith Butler said per AllSteelers." He knows the defense. We're gonna move him down in the box sometimes, sometimes we're gonna put him in the post-safety."
Able to move around more, Fitzpatrick led the Steelers with 10 tackles against the Bills. Pittsburgh hasn't seen that kind of production since Troy Polamalu was still running around with hair sticking out of his helmet.
"You know, Troy is Hall of Fame, but if there's a player we can compare him to, I like Minkah," Haden said. "I've heard Troy isn't too much of a talker. You don't say too much, you let your ball say for itself. And, at the same time, always wanting to be the best.
"Minkah prepares as if he's not even on the team. That just shows that you've got your All-Pro safety; what are you not to be working hard.
"I didn't get to play with Troy, but I can see playing with Minkah that that's kind of the same person."
Players and coaches only rarely make comparisons to those in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Steelers have no trouble, though, doing so in this case, and with good reason.
One example during the Bills game was on third-and-3 early in the fourth quarter. Josh Allen connected with Matt Breida for what could have been a dangerous short pass turned into a long gain if the speedy running back got into open field, but Fitzpatrick was on him in a flash to force fourth down.
"He read it," defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. "He was supposed to play the deep pass and came down and dad-gum made a play. Another Troy-like deal."
Yep, he said Troy-like.
"Troy did the same thing," Butler also told Steelers reporters. "He moved around a little bit. Most quarterbacks read the safeties in terms of dissecting defenses. As much as you can move him around, as much as you can play different positions with him, that’s gonna give them problems."
Butler isn't ready to give Fitzpatrick full Polamalu-type authority on the back end, at least not yet. However, he is going to use the 2017 Thorpe Award winner as a different kind of secret weapon against quarterbacks, especially as his ability to disguise protections and confuse quarterbacks continue to improve.
"He’s normally posted right in the middle of the field," Butler said. "When we move him out of that position, I’m sure the quarterback’s a little bit nervous. If you saw Buffalo, they were holding the ball a little bit in terms of some of our zone coverages. They weren’t sure where we were putting him, either. That’s what we want to do."
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