Would it be striking to hear that Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell has been one of the team’s top performers on defense through the first quarter of this season? Surprising as it may be based on his first year with the team, and especially in light of the amount of negative attention that he has seen from fans since signing, Mitchell has been a steadying, if flawed, presence at the back end of the defense.
While the defense is still prone to giving up a few explosive plays, and a double-explosive play or two here and there, the unit as a whole has cut down on the quantity of long gains given up, and Mitchell has played a role in reducing that figure, as well as limiting the impact of those registered.
Often playing as a deep safety, the seventh-year veteran is not racking up the statistics—he has 19 tackles and a forced fumble—but that is actually on pace for a career-high in tackles. More importantly, he has cut down on the misses, although his tackling form often leaves much to be desired.
The veteran gave a positive effort last week against the Ravens in spite of the Steelers ultimately coming up short, serving in part as an enforcer, as he is wont to do. His first tackle came against former teammate Steve Smith on a five-yard reception in the first quarter.
Mitchell took a good angle to the sideline to meet the receiver and limit his yardage. As can be seen in the accompanying image, Smith did not appreciate the effort.
In the second half, on the second play of the Ravens’ first full drive, the defensive line leaked, allowing Justin Forsett to find a crease for a 33-yard gain. The offense set two wide receiver on the far left side of the formation, stressing the free safety to favor that way, making Mitchell’s recovery and impressive tackling former on Forsett on an downfield tackle in open space all the more noteworthy.
Later in the quarter, with Baltimore facing a third and 10, Mitchell played 20 yards off the ball to begin the play, dropping even further off the snap. As the tight end received the ball on a flat route, the free safety closed and put a shoulder into the rookie as he went to the ground to assure that he would be held short of the sticks.
In overtime, the much maligned free agent acquisition made an excellent play on the ball on a deep target 20-plus yards down the field, showing proper form and appropriate range for the Cover 2 look, landing hard and sacrificing his body to assure that the receiver would not catch the ball, forcing the Ravens to punt. This would have been a game-defining play had the Steelers managed to win.
Later in overtime, one what proved to be the Ravens’ game-winning drive, Mitchell once again showed the type of range that is enabled by a healthy groin, after returning to the game from injury, able to close on the receiver nearly as he made an 11-yard reception, and going for the ball after he did so.
In his second year in Pittsburgh, Mike Mitchell has gotten off to a nice, but fairly quiet start, looking healthier and more comfortable with what he is being asked to do. The hope here at least is that we get to see him rush the passer a bit more as well going forward.