Categorized | Article, Pictures

Breakdown Of New Steelers S Mike Mitchell


By Alex Kozora

Using the All-22 Coaches Tape, here is an evaluation of new Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell. Beginning with individual game breakdowns and notes.

I watched five games of Mitchell in 2013. For each, I did a pre and post snap tally. Looked at the following categories.

Pre-Snap

Free Safety or Strong Safety

Lining up in the box (gave some leeway here, generally anywhere near the line of scrimmage)

Playing as the single high safety (also can be included post snap if there was rotation)

Lining up over a slot receiver

Post-Snap

Deep Zone (usually deep middle in Cover 1/3 or deep half in Cover 2)

Under Zone (typically “Sky” coverage, responsible for the flats)

Robber (reading and reacting to the QB’s eyes)

Blitzes

Man Coverage

Attempted to watch Week One but realized he was inactive that week with a calf injury. He had won the starting strong safety gig coming out of camp, beating out DJ Campbell and Haruki Nakamura. So I moved onto Week Two against the Buffalo Bills.

Week Two – Buffalo Bills

Strong Safety: 28

Free Safety: 17

Single High: 6

Box: 5

Deep Zone: 22

Under Zone: 7

Man: 2

Robber: 2

Game Breakdown

He saw his first snaps of the year on special teams, serving as a jammer mid-way through the second quarter. According to Football Outsiders, Mitchell saw 90 snaps on special teams in 2013. Not that he’ll be expected to play there with Pittsburgh but some added background information on him.

Started his first series with 5:15 left in the second replacing Quintin Mikell. According to head coach Ron Rivera, this was by design to help ease Mitchell back into action.

That plan was aborted when Mitchell moved to free safety when Charles Godfrey went down with an injury. Panthers’ secondary got hit hard in this game so he was asked to flip-flop throughout. Reoccurring theme for the year.

He was used fairly conservatively, playing a ton in the deep half of Cover 2.

Mitchell1_zps71d3548a

But also used in some “Sky” coverage, rotating down and covering the flat while the corner carried anything vertical. Mostly came at strong safety.

Mitchell2_zpsc17b25b9

Mitchell3_zpsa04c472d

Did have a huge open field tackle against CJ Spiller. One of the toughest backs in the league to bring down.

But also had multiple missed tackles. Two by my count. Another theme that’ll be highlighted throughout the breakdown.

Flashed a big hit on 6’7” tight end Scott Chandler in the flats. Early on, showed that reputation for being a big hitter.

Made a lot of the calls in the secondary.

On the downside, there was an instance where defensive end Greg Hardy was staying step-for-step with him in pursuit mid-way in the 4th quarter. Hardy is a supreme athlete but it was discouraging to see. But Mitchell’s recovering calf injury could serve as an explanation. Seemed to grab his leg after here and there during the game.

Week Five – Arizona Cardinals

Free Safety: 54

Strong Safety: 2

Single High: 13

Box: 3

Deep Zone: 29

Under Zone: 4

Blitz: 2

Robber: 1

Man: 1

Game Breakdown

Started at FS playing along undrafted rookie free agent Robert Lester. Because he was playing with a rookie, it seemed Carolina played Mitchell very conservatively. Ton of Cover 2 and some Cover 3 with Mitchell as the single high.

Young secondary, especially with Lester. Had to protect him. Vanilla defense from the Panthers. Two deep shell with only occasional rotation. At its most complex, sometimes the cornerback would roll up into the flats and you’d see quarter-quarter-halves. This conservatism led to a fairly nondescript game from Mitchell.

Did show quick feet and change of direction. Allowed one catch for 18 yards on two attempts. Incompletion was good coverage on Larry Fitzgerald in the back of the end zone. Ball overthrown but still blanketed him.

Picked off a pass at the goalline but it was a post route that Carson Palmer threw way too far in front. Mitchell had to dive but not that tough of a play.

Had another missed tackle, failing to bring down the less than elusive Rashard Mendenhall as he scooted to the right side. Called for a personal foul for a clear late hit out of bounds in a separate instance.

Week Eight – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Free Safety: 67

Strong Safety: 1

Single High: 18

Box: 6

Slot: 1

Deep Zone: 54

Blitz: 6

Under Zone: 1

Robber: 1

Man: 1

Just to clarify, there were a lot of instances where it was obvious Mitchell was going to be responsible for the deep half or middle even on run plays. Those were counted as “deep zones” even if there wasn’t a pass.

Game Breakdown

This week, Quintin Mikell started at SS with Lester coming in during the second series. Those two rotated throughout the rest of the game.

More aggressive against the run after looking relatively timid the two prior. Laid out running back Michael James in the second quarter.


Fiery, emotional player. Fluid athlete that was capable of covering a lot of ground in coverage. Able to get to the left sideline quickly after lining up near the LOS. Forces Mike Glennon to go to his next read and ends up being sacked.

Little more variety in his usage. In the box more, had two true pass blitzes, and lined up over the slot once.

In the box pre-snap here. Doesn’t do a whole lot more than absorb the lead block of Erik Lorig but it’s good enough. Frees up Thomas Davis to make the tackle.

Mitchell4_zps8576fae8

Mitchell5_zps8e06a8f6

Mitchell6_zps32d7ae83

Still, played a ton of centerfield. Numbers a bit inflated though by Carolina going vanilla and conservative up big headed into the fourth quarter.

Week 11 – New England Patriots

Free Safety: 65

Strong Safety: 3

Single High: 26

Box: 9

Slot: 2

Deep Zone: 33

Under Zone: 5

Blitz: 4

Robber: 2

Game Breakdown

Again, Mikell and Lester rotating at SS. Mitchell forced to adapt to two different players. A veteran and undrafted rookie. As the man in charge of communication in the secondary, seemed to handle it well. Again, was in charge of the calls and adjustments vs motions.

Lots of Cover 1/3 with Mitchell as the single high safety. Carolina had him playing with a lot of depth. Playing 20-25 yards off the line of scrimmage wasn’t uncommon.

Mitchell7_zps22028493

Really made him a non-factor against the run.

But there was more variety.

Cover 3 “Sky” with Mitchell playing in the flats below.

Mitchell8_zpsdf23e23b

Mitchell9_zpsf4fb46d4

And lined up over the slot receiver in this next still. Zone coverage and dropped into the flat.

Mitchell10_zps712272f6

Carolina let him walk down to the LOS more often, playing in the box nine times. Blitzed four others, three of those coming in obvious passing situations. To that extent, finally letting him play outside of that vanilla bubble he was in early in the year. Eight times in the box and two blitzes in Weeks Two and Five combined.

Biggest complaint from this game was his angles. Poor routes to the ball and caused him to miss tackles. One costly one in coverage that nearly led to a touchdown.


Missed another tackle because of a poor angle late in the second quarter.

Missed a tackle in run support. Not low enough and bounced off.

Mitchell11_zps6dec736c

On the plus side, showed quick feet and change of direction. Out of his breaks in a hurry.

Week 16 – New Orleans Saints

Free Safety: 66

Strong Safety: 9

Single High: 34

Box: 11

Slot: 5

Deep Zone: 45

Under Zone: 11

Blitz: 1

Robber: 1

Man: 1

Game Breakdown

Mikell started at SS and stayed there the entire game. Finally got welcomed consistency at the other safety spot.

He was jawing with Saints’ players all game long. Got into the faces of Robert Meachum and Kenny Stills. Will fit in just fine when the Steelers take on Baltimore.

Only blitzed that one time but made it count. Happened in the 4th quarter on a 3rd and 8 with Carolina leading by three. Flushed Drew Brees to the left and helped bring him down, splitting a sack.

Used more aggressively. Brought into the box a ton and lined up in the slot (pictured below). Panthers getting more creative with him.

Mitchell12_zps569d4236

But when he was single high, as he often was, he played at a conservative depth. That often kept him out of the action.

Another missed tackle in the run game. Again, probably a little too high and the running back spins free.

Mitchell13_zps9a2215df

Mitchell14_zps621da0ef

Conclusions

From those five games, his final numbers.

Free Safety: 269

Strong Safety: 43

Single High: 97

Box: 34

Slot: 8

Deep Zone: 183

Under Zone: 28

Blitz: 13

Robber: 7

Man: 5

Quarterbacks were 2/5 against him for 47 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

According to Football Outsiders, Mitchell played 899 snaps on defense, or 88.7% of them.

The positives will echo a lot of what has already been talked about. Will flash big hits. Isn’t the most aggressive but certainly not allergic to contact either. More aggressive in coverage than versus the run. Quick feet and break on the ball. Fluidity in his hips and changes direction without a problem. Didn’t allow many big plays. Kept everything in front of him. Diagnoses plays quickly and gets to the ball in a hurry.

That last part speaks to his football IQ. Aspect of his game not many have talked about. Like Mitchell mentioned in his press conference, he and Luke Kuechly were the defensive signal callers. Had to deal with a rotation at safety for a good portion of the year. Including the rookie Lester. Underrated and underappreciated aspect of what he did. Led a secondary that allowed the sixth least yards per game and tied for ninth in yards per attempt allowed.

I picked the games at random, just to spread them out across the year, and know he had more impact plays than what I saw. But only saw the one turnover created and the half sack. But the fact he was asked to play so deep in coverage and keep the ball in front of him makes it hard to be impactful.

Downsides also aren’t shocking. Missed too many tackles. In the five games, have him pegged for six misses. That’s not going to be acceptable in this defense and a big reason why Ryan Clark was criticized. Has to work on his angles, too.

Carolina finally opened up the playbook for him as the season went on. As he and the rest of the young secondary got more comfortable, Mitchell was allowed more freedom. Still plenty of single high vanilla but his role expanded.

Mitchell should be able to handle any role he’s asked to. From the deep half to being in the box or covering the slot, he’s got experience. Though unlikely, he can play strong safety too. That’s the position he was supposed to start at until Godfrey went down. Important players aren’t asked to do more than what they are capable of or something completely foreign from what their old team did. If they can’t, they’re going to struggle. Won’t be the case for Mitchell from a schematic standpoint.

As Dave Bryan already wrote, the money is right. If the team really wanted to, he could be cut before his roster bonus is due next year and the team would save money. In essence, it’s a series of one year contracts.

The signing indirectly gives the team added corner depth. Should there be an injury to one of the top three corners, Shamarko Thomas can now fill in the nickel role. Saw 68 snaps early last season before getting hurt. Even in that case, Will Allen becomes the dime back (if he won’t be already, figure he and Shark will battle it out in camp) like last year. Depth at the position not as bad as it seems.

It’s an ok but not great signing. I like Mitchell but not overly excited about him. Has to be a more consistent tackler. All eleven for Dick LeBeau need to be sound, fundamental tacklers. Don’t see that from him. But if last season is any indication, Mitchell is a smart player that doesn’t gamble and won’t get beat. Lot of value in that. Something the Steelers have to do in order to bounce back in 2014.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • srdan

    Between Tomlin, Lebeau, Lake and Woodson, I have to believe that they saw something that they can fix.

  • steeltown

    I like the signing, I was hoping they’d take a go at Mitchell, Decoud or Nolan Carroll to help fortify the secondary. I think with more coaching and more playing time that his tackling will improve and he’ll learn to take better angles

  • Paddy

    Mitchell has all the intangibles, the technique can be taught. The man wants to be successful, not ordinary

  • Steelers12328882

    Is Woodson still with the team?

  • srdan

    I thought I read in one of the posts last week that he is.

    Ian Rappaort reported so…lol

  • steeltown

    He’s serving as a coaching intern through training camp

  • Steelers12328882

    Again? I know he was last year, but I thought he’d move up or out from that position.

  • steeltown

    You may be right, one would think he’d either be hired as an assistant or not this year.

  • treeher

    Troy Polamalalulu will teach him how to tackle low.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    You should more excited, I know I am- its not because not only he’s replacing Ryan Clark with a much better skillsets with a younger age but… Mitchell’s style and skillset allow Troy and Shamarko to play like themselves and when they do, we become a better team. Now I understand that not all signings pan up but.. I see this as a very low risk/high reward situation.

  • chris ward

    Nice breakdown on Mitchell, think he will fit well with the Steelers. Upgrade from having Clark at FS. Like his size and speed, needs to improve on his tackling, but that can be fixable.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    There is a factor here I think is being overlooked. The missed tackles stat is a challenge to believe. If I am a speedster, I might get credit for a missed tackle that Ryan Clark wouldn’t have even been near and NOT get the mark. I am hoping he can develop, cause to me THAT is the key to the signing. Does it have risk? Yes, but I think the reward could also be high due to age..

  • AL252

    The propensity for missing tackles is a concern. Clark drove me nuts last year with it.

  • RyanW

    The fact he doesnt give up big plays and is solidnin coverage is whats most exciting to me. The tackling issue can be corrected and I can live with a few misses here and there but itll be nice to see our FS 15 yards behind the reciever as hes waltzing in for a TD

  • dennisdoubleday

    Yes, it’s a lot like the range factor defensive stat in baseball.

  • Ike Evans

    There’s no more teaching someone how to tackle with this new CBA…less contact, less pads, less practices…less time to tackle…he is what he is at this point..,I still want to draft a safety but I doubt they pull the trigger unless its late round

  • dkoy85

    I’m starting to question my sanity- I’m actually agreeing with you on this one.

  • dkoy85

    Hmmm… good point. I wish I had the time/will to go through game tape and analyze all his missed tackles. That open field tackle on Spiller flashes his tackling ability.

  • JohnB

    and if im not mistaken Woodson was working in Oakland when Mitchell was drafted so maybe theres some insight there too.

If you enjoy our content & podcast, feel free to buy us a cup of coffee below.
Shop for 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Nike and New Era Team Gear at Fanatics

Archives