Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell is often hard up for positive press, or at least that has been the case throughout his thus far short Steelers career. He had an up and down first season with the team last year while he played through injury, and the fans—and media—let him know all about it.
This season, he has not been flawless, but I think that most astute observers would acknowledge that he has gotten off to a better start in his second year with Pittsburgh as a starting safety, and the second game against the 49ers was an especially even performance in comparison to the opener.
While his strength in the opener was his work against the run, Mitchell’s efforts were more focused on the pass against San Francisco, as the front seven generally kept the 49ers’ running game in check, which really stressed Colin Kaepernick.
As a final talley, Mitchell logged five tackles in the last game, as well as a pass defensed, and he did not miss a tackle, nor fail to reach on a tackle that he should have made but did not, which as been the case a few times too often over the years.
Late in the first quarter, for example, Kaepernick caught the defense off-guard with one of several runs on the day, selling the play action well in a run-heavy look on a run-option play. With the tight end pulling left and James Harrison biting on the run fake, the quarterback easily won the left sideline, but Mitchell came up from his deep safety position to limit the damage to 14 yards as the only defender on that side of the field.
Still on the same drive, but much later, and in a different quarter, the 49ers began driving, at this time cracking the red zone after an encroachment penalty. On first and five, Mitchell came down to the line, blitzing off the left side of the defense, pulling off a nice spin move to get past the running back, and making a bee line for the quarterback, who got the pass off in a hurry but incomplete.
Late in the first half, Mitchell sent the 49ers back to the locker room to regroup after making a great play on the ball in man coverage against tight end Vernon Davis on third and five. the free safety displayed excellent read and react time to get his head around, find the ball, and make a play on it to bat it down.
Of course, one of his most consistent criticisms stems from his tendency to deliver the big hit but to eschew technique, which occasionally leads to the runner not going down, as was the case on an early third quarter run on third down. He ultimately made the tackle, but not before giving up the two yards to move the chains.
The seventh-year defender is strong, fast, and athletic, but the Steelers often didn’t fully utilize those attributes during his first year here. So far this year, it seems that Keith Butler is doing a better job of moving him around, blitzing him off the edge, putting him in coverage, and generally being more than just a center fielder, which is not his skill set.