The Pittsburgh Steelers began addressing their impending safety concerns during this offseason when they replaced the aging veteran Ryan Clark with one of the bigger free agent signings in their recent history, free safety Mike Mitchell.
Mitchell was immediately injected into the starting lineup opposite Troy Polamalu, who himself may be in his last season himself, though he continues to play well. He was signed to a two-year contract extension this offseason, a move that a vocal minority was not happy with.
Nor were they happy about Mitchell’s contract, despite the fact that they frequently bemoan the fact that the Steelers are rarely major players in free agency. It is with that background that Mitchell began his uphill battle as a Steeler.
Especially when he missed a tackle and was penalized twice with personal fouls in an embarrassing Week Two loss to the Ravens by a score of 26-6.
Naturally, the newcomer making all the money felt the wrath of the frustrated fan base, which immediately decided that he wasn’t worth what he was being paid, ignoring the fact that it takes time to adjust to a new system and new teammates.
But Mitchell hasn’t missed another tackle since then, and has only been penalized one other time, having become one of the most solid players on the defense, particularly over recent weeks.
In the last game, he finished second only to Lawrence Timmons for the Steelers with six tackles, all solo, and has 35 for the season despite the fact that he often plays as the deep safety.
He also forced a fumble on DeAndre Hopkins after a long gain near midfield as the Houston Texans tried to claw their way back into the game.
Polamalu recovered that fumble and returned it near field goal range, which ended up being the ultimate outcome of the ensuing offensive possession. But it was the second week in a row that Mitchell had forced a fumble, the first also coming after a sizable gain.
The Steelers liked Mitchell’s playmaking ability, having come off a season in which he recorded 3.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles.
Dick LeBeau, however, has yet to fully utilize his capabilities as a blitzer, averaging less than one pass rush per game, though he did register a pressure in his six attempts. With the Panthers last season, Mitchell rushed 23 times, getting pressure nearly half the time, though that was admittedly with a superior supporting cast.
The secondary also hasn’t been given many opportunities to make plays on the ball just yet, either, but that may come with time as LeBeau experiments with ways to bring pressure.
It’s important to keep in mind that Mitchell is just getting his feet warm with the Steelers—after all, he did sign a five-year contract. We’re beginning to see him assert himself in this defense now, and that must continue for years to come.