The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2023 season has been somewhat of a roller coaster.
After being stagnant on the offensive side of the ball for most of the season, the team made a rare in-season coaching change. Last month, longtime head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed offensive coordinator Matt Canada had been fired.
Pittsburgh has also dealt with its share of injuries, including recent setbacks for quarterback Kenny Pickett and star pass rusher T.J. Watt.
Minkah Fitzpatrick has also missed a handful of games this season with injuries. When he’s playing, Fitzpatrick is considered among the top defensive backs in the NFL. But Steelers legend and two-time Super Bowl winner Chris Hoke has criticized Fitzpatrick’s 2023 performance.
During a recent appearance on Pittsburgh sports radio station 93.7 The Fan, Hoke called out Fitzpatrick’s stats for the 2023 season and suggested the numbers do not add up to a player considered elite.
“Minkah has 64 tackles, 0 interceptions, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries. ‘A’ players have to play ‘A’ ball in games like last Thursday and this Saturday. They haven’t gotten that from him this season.”
Fitzpatrick spent the first two seasons of his career with the Miami Dolphins before joining the Steelers ahead of the 2019 season. He signed a lucrative four-year contract extension with the Steelers in 2022.
The Steelers opened Week 14 with a disappointing three-point loss to the hapless New England Patriots. Shortly after the latest loss, Fitzpatrick suggested some of his teammates were not interested in putting in the hard work necessary for a successful season.
“In order to see fruit, you gotta toil for it. I think too many people don’t want to toil for it,” Fitzpatrick said after the loss. “They just want to walk out here and think that they gonna make plays and think that they gonna perform at a high level.
“I think we need to have more people who want to work for it and not expect it to be handed to them because this is the NFL, and nothing’s handed to you. You gotta earn everything.”
Fitzpatrick missed a few games earlier this season due to a hamstring injury before returning for a Dec. 3 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Fitzpatrick’s return to action was short-lived. He broke a hand in the Week 13 game.
“I think that dudes just think that because they’re wearing the black and gold that they’re gonna win games,” Fitzpatrick added. “I think we need to check that mentality and make people realize that they gotta earn that mentality, and they gotta earn every single blade of grass and every single splash play and every single rep that they get out there. They gotta earn it.”
Tomlin eventually caught wind of Fitzpatrick’s comments. Tomlin suggested the three-time All-Pro safety’s comments were taken as a call to action instead of a criticism about the effort of other players.
“You know, he was probably talking about smiling in the face of adversity. These are going to be tough, tough games, and there’s going to be some adversity, there’s going to be some challenges. Nothing is going to be given to us, and we have to fight that,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got to smile in the face of that. [Fitzpatrick is] a guy who does that and lives that life, and I’m sure he’s just challenging others to do the same. We have to do a better job of that in an effort to change the outcome of games.”
The Steelers are 7-6 and in third place in the AFC North division.