While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
Some teams make more sweeping changes, hiring and firing new coaches, general managers, and front office staff, hoping that the next wholesale change will hit upon the correct formula. The Steelers are not an organization to make knee-jerk decisions; even with the departure of Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator, the contingency plan for his replacement had been known already for years.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: How will Mike Mitchell perform in his second season with the Steelers?
While the Steelers are rarely big spenders in free agency—their biggest recent splurge would have been Jeff Hartings, who was a Pro Bowl center—some of their most significant free agency successes were not always high profile signings.
The signing of Mike Mitchell was seen as one of the more high profile moves in recent franchise history in free agency, but his 2014 performance did not meet the expectations of an impact free agent signing.
While he did record two forced fumbles on the year, he failed to intercept a single pass, nor did he offer much as a blitzer, which was one of the qualities that attracted the Steelers to him during the free agency process.
Mitchell showed in 2013 that he could perform at a high level in a new system, but he failed to do so in 2014 with the Steelers. Admittedly, he was surrounded with less talent, and he revealed after the season that he was playing through a groin injury.
But a groin injury doesn’t make you take poor angles. It only makes it harder to make up for them because it can slow you down. He certainly looked slowed down in the Steelers’ playoff loss chasing after tight ends over the middle of the field.
What’s more, it’s not even clear who he will be playing across from during the 2015 season. Most of the secondary as a whole is under construction, which means more change for Mitchell to adjust to next year. He may have had some solid games here and there, but the way the Steelers have been playing, consistency from the last line of defense is crucial, and he hasn’t shown that yet.