The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t upset the Bengals in Week 1 without Minkah Fitzpatrick. Here’s why he was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.
It’s impossible to make a sensible argument that Minkah Fitzpatrick was not among the most valuable non-quarterbacks in the NFL in Week 1. Normally, it’s T.J. Watt who is impacting the game in an other-worldly fashion (and he still did, to an extent). However, Minkah’s performance against the Cincinnati Bengals was one of the single-best games I’ve ever seen from an NFL safety.
It began with intercepting Joe Burrow on the opening drive and taking it to the house. Quickly jumping out to a 7-0 lead gave the Steelers the momentum early in the game. This defensive score would prove to be even more crucial considering how close this game was and that the offense was only able to generate 16 points.
14 tackles and a pass deflection later (via ESPN stats), Fitzpatrick was still making plays all over the field, including a big pass break-up in the endzone. When the Bengals eventually had a chance to seal the victory with a point after attempt in regulation, Minkah deflected the kick to save the game. Eventually, after a few more missed kicks in OT, the Steelers would secure the win with a Chris Boswell field goal.
When the NFL handed out their awards following Week 1, it was no surprise to see Minkah Fitzpatrick earn the AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Fitzpatrick dominated the box score, but more importantly, his outstanding play led Pittsburgh to a massive upset win over a divisional opponent (that just so happened to be the reigning AFC Champions).
Can Minkah Fitzpatrick lead Steelers defense without T.J. Watt?
Now the question becomes: can Minkah Fitzpatrick do enough to lead a successful defense without the aid of T.J. Watt? As you know, Watt suffered a pectoral injury during the Bengals game, and while he won’t miss the whole season, he could be out of commission for more than a month.
So far, there’s nothing to suggest that Minkah can’t be the leader this team needs right now. Obviously, his thrilling performance in Week 1 was not just a fluke. Minkah was a blue chip player coming out of Alabama and already has two First-Team All-Pro seasons under his belt.
However, Watt was a player who needed to be accounted for each week, and it was nearly impossible to remove his presence from the game. Going from Watt to a pairing of Malik Reed and Jamir Jones is going to be a significant drop, but if the Steelers can still generate quick pressure on the quarterback, Fitzpatrick is going to be able to feed in the secondary.
There aren’t many defensive backs who possess the combination of instincts, awareness, and ball skills that Minkah Fitzpatrick has. Still just 25 years old, the Steelers star safety is entering the prime of his NFL career, and would fully expect some huge games coming up in the absence of T.J. Watt.