The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t gotten off to the start they would have liked to this season. Their win in Week 1 over the Cincinnati Bengals offered a lot of reason for hope and excitement, but pretty much everything since then has been bad. Three straight losses have the Steelers looking for answers to questions they thought were answered this offseason.
The most pressing of those questions is their quarterback situation. Mitchell Trubisky was tasked with being the guy to replace Ben Roethlisberger this season, but after three and a half games, he’s back on the bench. Kenny Pickett has been handed the starting role, but that doesn’t mean things are going to get better anytime soon.
The Steelers start to the season has been disappointing to say the least, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been bright spots amidst the struggles. In fact, one player appears to be in the beginning stages of putting together quite the bounce back season for Pittsburgh. Let’s pick out who that player is and see how their strong start has been a big help for the Steelers.
Steelers most pleasant surprise in 2022: Minkah Fitzpatrick
The 2021 season wasn’t Minkah Fitzpatrick’s best season. After becoming one of the best safeties in the NFL, Fitzpatrick took on a role that saw him playing closer to the line of scrimmage last season. He racked up a career high 124 tackles, but failed to make the same impact he had made earlier in his career.
Fitzpatrick has moved back to his usual role this season, and has been an absolute force for the Steelers. Through four games, he’s been the best player on their roster, which is somewhat surprising considering the talent on their roster. But with their offensive struggles and the injury to T.J. Watt, Fitzpatrick has had to step up, and boy has he stepped up.
Fitzpatrick has already made several game changing plays just four games into the season for the Steelers. He’s carried over his strong tackling from last season (he’s averaging eight tackles a game) while also having a bounce back year in coverage. Opposing passers have a miniscule passer rating of 47 when targeting Fitzpatrick in coverage. That’s a huge improvement from last season.
Fitzpatrick hasn’t just held up well in coverage; he’s making plays on balls thrown his way too. Fitzpatrick has broken up four passes already this season, while also recording three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Those are plays Fitzpatrick simply wasn’t making last season.
The 2022 season got off to a fantastic start for Fitzpatrick, as he turned in one of the best performances of his career against the Bengals. Fitzpatrick had 14 tackles, an interception that he took to the house, and a blocked extra point that sent the game to overtime. Considering the Steelers ended up winning that game, and haven’t won since, it’s fair to wonder whether Pittsburgh would have any wins without Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick hasn’t been as good as he was in Week 1, but he’s still playing at an incredibly high level. He’s making plays all over the field, and has been holding the Steelers defense together as a result. Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled with consistency, but it certainly isn’t due to Fitzpatrick’s play.
While Fitzpatrick has always been a strong player, he blended in on defense for much of the 2021 campaign. He was still good, but his impact wasn’t nearly what it had been in previous seasons. It was fair to wonder whether Fitzpatrick’s new responsibilities were going to continue to take away from his production.
That’s why Fitzpatrick’s play early on has been so encouraging. Not only has Fitzpatrick returned to his old self, he’s looked even better than before, which is saying something considering how good Fitzpatrick has been throughout his career. He’s making game-changing plays every time he takes the field, and that’s exactly what Pittsburgh needs from him.
Things may ultimately not get better for the Steelers this season, but that shouldn’t take away from Fitzpatrick’s play. We knew for some time he was one of the best all around safeties in the NFL, and after a strange 2021 season, he’s proven that he’s back to start the 2022 season.
If Pittsburgh wants to turn things around, Fitzpatrick is absolutely going to have to keep up his strong play. The Steelers defense is at less than 100 percent with Watt on the sidelines, and while Fitzpatrick isn’t going to be rushing the quarterback, he can influence other areas of the game. Fitzpatrick’s strong start has been the most pleasant surprise in what’s been a pretty desolate start to the season for Pittsburgh.