I’ve spoken to this several times but I haven’t done the important part: show you guys. Mike Mitchell has a well-known reputation as a hitter. But beyond the actual blows he dishes out is the recognition of that by receivers going over the middle. It’s always in the back of their minds and can influence how they go after the ball or react after the catch. That’s thanks to Mitchell.
On one of his daily Instagram chats, Mitchell mentioned the number of receivers who slide or duck out of his way to avoid a blow. That’s thanks to what he’s done to receivers who dare come over the middle. Like this blow to Terrelle Pryor, who made an effort for the ball but probably felt Mitchell’s presence coming, too. Ka-boom.
Mitchell has adapted to the league’s rules and shows the rare ability to hurt you without hurting his own team and taking a penalty. Over the past two years, he’s been called for just one illegal blow to the head, and that came against a diving/falling Tyler Eifert in 2015.
You better believe opponents see that on tape. And it makes them think twice about going over the middle. Advantage Mitchell, advantage Pittsburgh.
Here’s two examples of that. Last year against the Cincinnati Bengals. Coming over the middle, the receiver definitely feels Mitchell’s (and Robert Golden’s) presence and is looking to go down right away. He’s not just stumbling out of nowhere; he’s trying to make the catch, avoid the hit, and it causes him to slide down. Just like Mitchell talked about.
No chance for YAC. Or a missed tackle. That’s heavy influence.
Another example. Week 5 against the New York Jets. Brandon Marshall runs the dig. Throw is low, I get that, but he doesn’t make much of an effort to pick the ball off his shoestrings. More worried about Mitchell’s footsteps, again, you can guarantee he knows he’s there, and he’s still greeted with a heavy thump.
It’s an impact that barely registers on a box score. But Mitchell is in the head of a lot of receivers and it changes how they play the game.
One thing I would like to see more out of him, consider this a preview of my “one step to take” series when it circles to him, is being able to separate player from ball. Receivers earn a paycheck too and some of them have made some great snags but that’s one area he could improve on. A big hit that results in a catch still goes down as a catch.