Over the course of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, safety Mike Mitchell has drawn a lot of heat on different occasions, and seems to be viewed by many outside of Pittsburgh as among the dirtiest players in the league. Both players and coaches on the Bengals have called him out in the recent past while defending Vontaze Burfict.
He is facing yet another ‘Twitter trial’ of sorts after the ninth-year veteran was seen contacting Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith low on a throw during the Steelers’ victory in Kansas City on Sunday, which has prompted him to once again defend himself against accusations of playing outside of the rules.
“I’m not a dirty player”, he told the gathered media. “The video shows what it shows. I wasn’t trying to take Alex Smith’s knees out”. The play occurred on the final play of the third quarter, on which the safety blitzed, only to have the quarterback duck out of the way and complete a long pass on a dump-off to the running back. It did draw a roughing the passer penalty.
Back in September, Mitchell talked about his presence as a big hitter and how he has changed the way that he plays as the years have gone on to ensure that he not only hits with an impact, but that he does so within the rules.
“What I’m ultimately trying to do is get a man on the ground if he’s running the ball or break up a pass if a pass is thrown. I’m not particularly trying to hurt anyone”, he said. “If you look at over the course of my career, I think I’m one of the guys that’s gotten exponentially better at not hitting people in the head and KOing”.
Though he has had a couple of personal fouls called against him—not all of which subsequently ended up receiving a fine, mind you—Mitchell certainly is right that he has played a much cleaner game than his reputation suggests, and honestly, I’m not entirely sure why he seems to be particularly singled out enough to be called one of the dirtiest players in the game.
“I’m not just a guy that’s out there running around without any control. I’m skilled, I’m aiming where I’m hitting and I’m hitting guys in the body legally”, he said during that previous interview last month. He has maintained that he tries to play the game the right way, and prides himself in doing so.
When it comes to Sunday’s incident, the currently available tape frankly leaves the matter somewhat ambiguous to me. The replay does show that Anthony Chickillo gave him a slight shove, and he appears to stumble.
As Mitchell pointed out, Smith was also fading backward, toward the safety, after he threw, backing into his path. But beyond that, it’s really too much speculation for me to make a strong inference either affirmatively or negatively about supposed intent on the play.