5 for Friday: No, Fitzpatrick is not a dirty player

If there's anyone with an appreciation of the work and effort needed to be great, it's Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.

In the hour that follows any Steelers practice session, Fitzpatrick can be seen on the field continuing to work on his craft doing ball-skill, backpedal drills or some other little thing he feels will help him improve his game.

He's a craftsman.

It doesn't hurt his efforts that he's also highly talented. But when talent and hard work collide, you typically get really good results.

What Fitzpatrick is not, however, is a dirty football player.

That's what some are claiming after Fitzpatrick's perfectly legal tackle in the first half of last Monday night's 26-22 win by the Steelers left Browns running back Nick Chubb with a season-ending knee injury.

The play also happened to leave Fitzpatrick with a bruised chest that landed him in the hospital that night to be evaluated, but that's neither here nor there. Chubb's knee bent in an awkward fashion, so the tackle must have been dirty, right?


"It was very unfortunate. It's a tough injury," Fitzpatrick said Thursday. "Unfortunately, it's part of the game we play. People think I had ill will on the tackle. That's not the case whatsoever. I'm a guy that, as a competitor, I'm going to go out and play the game. I'm chippy. I'm edgy, of course. But I'm not a dirty player. I know the type of player I am. Chubb knows the type of player I am. I've played against him for the past five years two times a year. I love competing against him. He brings the best out of me and I bring the best out of him. 

"There's no chance I would ever purposely try to injure somebody. It was an unfortunate event. We play a physical game. People get hurt."

They do. That's why the players wear all the safety equipment. But large, athletic people crashing into each other cause injuries.

It's an unfortunate part of the game.

Some have suggested Fitzpatrick didn't need to go low on Chubb. But Chubb is a 5-foot-11, 227-pound ball of muscle. Fitzpatrick is 6-foot-1, 207 pounds.

Chubb had a head of steam and Fitzpatrick made a split-second decision on what was necessary to get him on the ground.

"I would say one, they never tackled Nick Chubb before, wanting me to go high on him," Fitzpatrick said. "Two, what I saw was that it opened up. I didn't see anybody on him. I made the decision as soon as I saw the hole open up and I saw him in the hole, I had to go low. You can tell me not to tackle him low, but it's a fast game. It's milliseconds. You have to make decisions within milliseconds. 

"You can't really control what happens after you make your decision. I had already chosen to go low. Somebody got on his back as I was going low. What happened, happened. There's nothing I would really do differently. It's very unfortunate. Chubb is a great player. He makes the game better when he is playing. I'm praying for a speedy recovery."

But for that decision, it could have gone much worse for Fitzpatrick. As it was, he still was shaken up on the play. As soon as he gathered himself, he got up and immediately went to Chubb to check on him and wish him well.

"If I tackle a guy like Nick Chubb high, he's going full speed downhill and I'm stationary, I'm going get run over and I'm going to get concussed," Fitzpatrick said. "I know it's an offensive game and people want to see points, but defensive players are people too. We have to protect ourselves. When you're tackling big guys, it's easier and you take less of a blow on your body when you go low."

But that doesn't mean it was a low blow.

• Given that we've seen all of T.J. Watt's remarkable career to this point, it can become easy to get lost in exactly how good he is.

But realize that according to the NFL, Watt is the first player since at least 1991 to have 4-plus sacks, 2-plus forced fumbles and a defensive touchdown through the first two weeks of the season. He also already has nine quarterback hits. No other player in the league has more than six.

He also broke the Steelers' team record for sacks last week in his 89th career game. Watt now has 81.5 sacks in his career, moving past James Harrison. Harrison had 80.5 sacks in his 177th game for the Steelers. Watt did it in essentially half the time.

Watt has been the most impactful defensive player in the league through the first two weeks of the season.

 • Can the Steelers get their passing game going against the Raiders and open some things up for their running game?

The numbers thus far suggest that might be possible.

Las Vegas is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 81.7 percent of their passes, which is the highest through two games in NFL history.

Since the start of last season, the Raiders also have played their base 4-3 defense just 15.8 percent of the time. That means they are a team that constantly lives in nickel and dime.

The Raiders are allowing 4.9 yards rushing per attempt this season to go along with that high completion percentage.

But the Steelers can't be concerned about that. Their offensive issues in the first two games have been well documented.

"Right now it's got to be more about us being more consistent and being more efficient and executing better and doing those things," said offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

The Raiders, however, also don't have an interception in their first two games and have three pass defenses as a team. By comparison, the Steelers have 13 pass defenses.

The Steelers have played two very good defensive teams in their first two games. But the Raiders are struggling defensively in some of the same ways the Steelers are struggling offensively.

The Steelers don't need to roll up 400 yards of offense or anything like that in this game. But they do need to win this game and look more fluid on offense.

• In 17 games last season, the Steelers forced an NFL-low nine fumbles. And they did that with outside linebacker Alex Highsmith tying for the league lead with five.

Through two games this season, the Steelers have forced seven fumbles, recovering four.

Having Watt back on the field at full strength helps. He's already forced two fumbles himself.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

But creating more fumbles also was a point of emphasis this offseason.

"We've emphasized it. We were doing it," said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. "We knew we were down on it, so we wanted to make it a part of our process in terms of creating turnovers. We were getting our hands on the ball. We were getting plenty of interceptions, but we weren't knocking the ball loose. I think we've really concentrated on getting the ball loose from runners by knocking it out of their hands, and it's starting to show. We've got to continue to do it."

The Steelers led the league in interceptions a year ago.

If they can tighten up their run defense while also continuing to find ways to take the ball away, the defense can be very dangerous.

• The Steelers are 41-20 in their history in domes. They'll play in another one on Sunday when they make their first trip to Allegiant Stadium to play the Raiders.

Domes offer some different challenges in terms of crowd noise, visuals and other things. But there's also no weather with which to deal.

Sunday's game will mark the 16th dome in which the Steelers have played games.

They own their most wins at one dome that's no longer in use, the Astrodome in Houston, where they posted a 16-12 record against some good Oilers teams.

The Steelers are 5-11 in their history on the road against the Raiders. But that included a 3-9 record in Oakland.

The Steelers were 2-2 against the Raiders when they played in Los Angeles from 1982 through 1994.

Perhaps another change in venue to Las Vegas will do the Steelers some good against the Raiders.