Pittsburgh Steelers free safety, like many in the lineup that have come before him—most immediately the thundering Ryan Clark—loves to hit people. He loves to administer big hits. It’s a part of the game for him, a part of his job description as an enforcer. But it’s not personal, it’s business, and he isn’t looking to hurt people.
That is what he told Joe Rutter writing for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I try to play the game the right way”, he said. “Old-school NFL professional football”, as he put it. After he put a hit on Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton inside the 10-yard line that knocked him out of the game, he said, “I told him, ‘good job’ on eating that”.
“It was a good hit”, Hilton said after the game, adding that “it wasn’t the hit that hurt me. It was just that ground. That ground doesn’t move”. But Mitchell does, and he moves with authority when he finds that he has an opportunity to make a big impact that sets a tone for the game.
He went up to Hilton after the hit. “Any time a guy gets up and is OK”, he said, “I want to let them know that it’s never personal. It’s all business”. He also added, “I do that to every guy that I hurt. I’m ruthless and cold-blooded, but I’m not out there to hurt people”.
But perhaps he is, if you hearken back to comments that his teammate, James Harrison, once made several years back. Harrison, talking about his playing style and his hits, drew a distinction between hurting and injuring. He said that he wants to hurt people, but never injure them. And to me, those are exactly the sort of hits that Mitchell has been dishing out.
The free agent signee in his third year with the Steelers, Mitchell has been, as he often is, facing some heavy criticism, most directly from the fan base, about his performance, but he turned in arguably one of his better, and certainly one of his most forceful, performances on Thursday since coming to Pittsburgh.
Aside from recording his first interception of the season and looking impressive on the return attempt to boot, he also recorded seven tackles, and accumulated a number of big hits throughout the game. He also had one or two of those forceful impacts on Sunday against the Browns.
The Steelers will have some down time before their next game, but when they do take the field again, Mitchell is going to have to contend with an impressive group of wide receivers from the Giants, including chief among them Odell Beckham Jr., one of the top players at his position.
You can imagine that he would like to get a good shot on him early on in the game to help set the tone for the defense and to send a clear signal to New York’s offense about what they are getting themselves into, and what they won’t be able to get away with.