Our last article on Mike Mitchell focused on his struggles and a technique that defined his 2014 season. Mitchell is an athlete who has talent, but his injury from his first season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, prevented anyone from believing in him. After overcoming this injury, he put on a defensive show in his second year with the team.
Since we have already covered the negative plays that Mitchell gave up in 2014, we will now focus on the tape showcasing his positive attributes and how he has become a talented safety who can contribute to the defense.
In the last article Mitchell's 2014 season included struggling with simple awareness when around wide receivers. Against the Arizona Cardinals in a week 6 matchup, the safety proved that being in a system and knowing the plays can go a long way.
The Steelers called a cover one scheme, leaving Mitchell in the middle of the end zone as the lone defender playing a deep zone.
Mitchell intercepted quarterback Carson Palmer on a deep post route to wide receiver John Brown. While it seemed like Brown was wide open at the time, Mitchell jumped the route at the correct moment proving that his awareness has increased significantly from last season.
More consistent passes defensed
Mike Mitchell is not the tallest safety in the NFL by any means, but he has play making ability to hide his true size. Cleveland Browns tight end Gary Barnidge is 6 foot 6 inches and had a terrific 2015 campaign.
Mitchell's zone assignment here could have been confusing and led to an easy touchdown for the Browns, but he identified the tight end in coverage and gave a solid challenge on the ball.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel attempted a roll out pass to his tight end in the left corner of the end zone. Tall targets in the red zone have been a problem for Pittsburgh for many years now, but on this play Mitchell came up big for a stop on fourth down that was the final exclamation point on a defensively dominant afternoon.
Technique that STILL defines how Mitchell plays
When someone hears the name Mike Mitchell they should picture a hard-hitting safety who lays the lumber on athletes. In 2015, he led the Steelers with 3 interceptions and forced 2 fumbles. Often times in 2015, these "splash plays" came at opportune moments for Pittsburgh.
In a tie game against the Oakland Raiders, the team was in prime position to take the lead with either a field goal or a touchdown. On a toss play to the left side, running back Latavius Murray had running room to gain around 10 yards to get into field goal range.
Mitchell had another idea after he came out of his safety position, hit the running back, and caused a fumble recovered by linebacker Jarvis Jones.
Mike Mitchell's first season did not turn out like fans hoped it would, but many who had a strong sense of how free agents usually perform in their first season with a Steelers' defense expected that; history showed us that with team leaders such as James Farrior and Ryan Clark. In his second year with the organization, Mitchell proved that understanding the system, being healthy, and doing what he believes is best, makes one successful. His improved consistency turned him from a question mark in the secondary into a dependable asset of a defender.
While he has only been with Pittsburgh for two seasons, expect him to still be a valuable player at the safety position as long as he stays healthy. It is very likely that Kevin Colbert will add a safety or two to the Steelers' depth chart with the upcoming NFL draft and the skill-set of Mitchell could play a major factor into who Pittsburgh selects.
While Mitchell plays free safety for the Steelers, his hard hitting style of play makes him a solid fit for strong safety as well. Do not be surprised if the team selects a safety that is less of an in-the-box player and looks to be more of a center-fielder that plays the pass and protects the back end of the secondary.