The Steelers have one of the youngest starting pairs of safeties in the league. Here’s why Terrell Edmunds needs to work in sync with Minkah Fitzpatrick.
The defenses of the 2000s for the Steelers were some of the best that we have seen in franchise history. While their front seven deserved a lot of credit for their work in the trenches, it wouldn’t have been close to the same without some extremely football-smart safties roaming the back end.
Obviously, first-ballot Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu was the star of the show. Recently, former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said that Polamalu was ‘the best safety that has ever played.‘ Unlike nearly every other safety in the league, Polamalu was given the ability to roam the field and make plays instead of being forced to stick with his assignment.
Minkah Fitzpatrick has showcased some of the same abilities early in his career. Though we will have to see if he can repeat his unreal performance from 2019, he displays remarkable instincts and plus athleticism to make plays on the ball all over the field.
While Polamalu was one of the greatest to ever play the game, he wasn’t alone in the back half of the defense. Ryan Clark was his right-hand man from 2006 to 2013, and the two safeties had unusually rare chemistry.
Polamalu was much more aggressive. He would use his supreme athleticism and high football IQ to sniff out the play. Though he would occasionally guess wrong or overpursue, that’s where Clark would come in. Somehow, Clark was always aware of where Polamalu was on the field and what he was going to do. And whatever the star safety did, Clark would do the opposite – being sure to contain and play it safe.
Steelers Terrell Edmunds needs to play the ‘Ryan Clark’ role
Though this chemistry isn’t something that builds overnight, eventually, we hope that Terrell Edmunds could be the ‘Ryan Clark’ to Fitzpatrick’s ‘Troy Polamalu.’ When it comes to Edmunds, athleticism has never been a question, as he tested as one of the best athletes coming out of the 2018 NFL Draft. However, coverage lapses have been the story of his career early on.
After surrendering an 83.0 passer rating as a rookie, Edmunds took a step back last season – allowing a 131.6 passer rating, according to Pro Football Reference. In addition, Edmunds allowed 4 touchdown receptions while failing to create a single interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery, or sack.
While Edmunds certainly hasn’t been playing like a first-round pick, it’s important to remember that he is still very young (23) and safety is not the easiest position to come in and dominate at right away (unless you are Minkah Fitzpatrick, of course).
Though his questionable instincts may be something that we continue to worry about, we would have to assume that the athletic safety will eventually turn things around. If Edmunds could end up being half the player Ryan Clark was for the Steelers, that’s probably all that Fitzpatrick would need to be given the ability to be as aggressive as he needs to be.