Film Room: Mike Mitchell Limps Into Second Half

I noticed an odd comment earlier this week in response to one of the articles we wrote. I don’t recall which article, or who said it, but one commenter was bemoaning the fact that Pittsburgh Steelers safety Mike Mitchell somehow always manages to escape criticism.

After doing a real-life double-take, it occurred to me that I had just seen the unintentionally funniest thing that I have read in the comments in a while. The idea that Mitchell is somehow free from criticism, when he may well be the most-widely criticized player on the entire team, is certainly worth a chuckle for me.

So in that spirit, here’s my film study on Mitchell from Sunday, obviously in the first half, since he checked out early in the second half. A mixture of good and bad, as these things tend to be.

We did start off with the good on the first play of the game. The tight end motioned left to right, which saw Sean Davis drop out of the box and Mitchell replace him on the strong side. Good idea, as he ended up with the ankle tackle on the play for a loss of four.

At the end of the quarter, Matthew Stafford looked for his tight end, Eric Ebron, deep down the middle. With Ryan Shazier covering underneath, the ball was a bit long, but Mitchell was there to hammer him anyway in case he caught it, looking to separate man from ball.

Late in the half, Stafford hit receiver T.J. Jones down the left sideline for 25 yards, with Artie Burns looking like he’s thinking he’s passing the target on. Perhaps he was. And if so, Mitchell was late shifting over. He put a big hit on the receiver, but he held on.

On the next play, with the Lions running a sweep off a touch pass, Mitchell found himself among the last line of defense, bringing down rookie Jamal Agnew after a 12-yard gain.

Stafford really had success picking apart the zones in Pittsburgh’s coverage—helped by the fact that they often forced a safety into direct coverage—and Jones got himself another one late in the half.

Mitchell rotated closer to the numbers on Joe Haden’s side before the snap, but neither he nor the cornerback were able to stop a perfect throw from the Lions’ quarterback for a big 34-yard gain.

These are the sorts of plays fans are looking at when they bang on the table and curse Mitchell’s name, saying that he is too slow, doesn’t react quickly enough, and needs to move to strong safety. I’ll just leave this all here and let you discuss amongst yourselves.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • treeher

    I don’t have as much problem with him as some others, but he always does seem late to the ball.

  • Anthony Palmerston

    Me either, I like having Mitchell on the team. But he does seem late as you’ve said. I’d like to see him there quicker to break the ball up with his hands sometimes rather than trying to lay a big hit after the ball has been caught.

  • falconsaftey43

    The last play is really the only one I’d say is a bad play, too slow getting over there. The other two he was right there at the catch point an laid a hard hit. One was completed, the other wasn’t, but neither were poor plays by Mitchel.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    In fairness to whoever said it I have been one of the only people around here consistently criticizing Mitchell over his time with us lol. For the first couple seasons I was doing it people were insisting on how he was being cheated out of pro bowls and was one of our best defensive players.

    That being said, there have been a lot more criticisms of him lately so I am not sure if that person has just been away for awhile or what.

  • WreckIess

    I’d even say that that last play really wasn’t all his fault either. His responsibility on the play is to middle the slot’s route and the outside receiver’s route and the fact that the defense shifted that late didn’t do him any favors. Then when he gets there and starts working to get depth, Stafford just threw a strike in between him and Haden. I know the design was to shift right before the snap to give Stafford a different look, but it just ended up helping him.

  • Av232

    That’s interesting. I saw the last play as a good concept by the Lions. The slot receiver is still a vertical threat up until the ball is released, which left mitchell in conflict between the slot and the outside. And that’s a nice, clean pocket.

    Either way, the calls for replacing him are overstated. What’s the better option? He’s solid. Def not a game changer… But solid.

  • #beatthepats

    Well , I have a feeling it may have been me with the odd comment, and thanks for the film breakdown great stuff as usuall. While my comments were poorly timed- after mitchell fined and critisized for dirty hits in the chief game , I just have felt his play in the passing game has been sub par – lack of interceptions , pass breakups over the years hes been here. You heard nothing about his play last year and this offseason , however the corners have gotten trashed over and over, even golden everone wanted him cut. Maybe im wrong but , his absence wasnt noticed against the ravens, and golden play in his relief got a top 5 grade for the team from pff.guess im still heated for chris hogan running right by him in the championship game.

  • falconsaftey43

    yeah, tough play in cover-2. play is designed to stress the safety. He needs to get some more width (he’s head up on the inside WR when ball is thrown) so he can make a break on either (although that does leave the post more open because so much more grass to cover that way. Haden should have done a better job of squeezing the throw too IMO. Only two threats to that side and both are verticals, no flat threat, he should be squeezing the vertical tighter.


    “Stafford really had success picking apart the holes in the zones….”


    Chuckle Gruden commented in game something like ‘Even Mitchell, who runs a 4.4 40, can’t get there fast enough in this zone defense.’
    What does THAT tell you?

  • Mark

    What keys are Mike reading when those WR caught those balls on the sideline? There are no other WR in the area, as a result, he should’ve immediately read the deep sideline pass on GIFs #3 and #5. He is in 2 deep coverage and still can’t get over to the sideline. Mike how about deflecting the ball or perhaps trying for an INT. Mike is a strong safety playing free safety


    Gruden said in game that that’s a very tough play for the S. Even one as capable as Mitchell.

  • Michael Conrad

    Mitchell was late because the inside receiver was starting to go up field. I understand the conflict of watching two WR’s but it also was the product of no pressure on the QB.
    A soft zone without a pass rush as the steelers play it will be destroyed by good QB’s.

    I’m not a big Mitchell fan because of missed tackles and poor coverage skills. I guess some of it could be scheme and him having multiple WR to watch but it is what it is . I hope we move on from him next year.

  • Roblisberger

    Cracked up at that comment. I think he said something along the lines of “If he can’t get there no one can”. Not sure if that is exactly true

  • Roblisberger

    Didn’t have too much of a problem with any of these plays. Probably should have been a little closer to the sideline on the last one – looks like he was cheating towards the slot guy. I’m a person that criticizes Mitchell a lot and I think we need a replacement for him but my issue is more with his tackling than coverage. I honestly think he is one of the worst tacklers on the team and he plays the position where it’s most important. Seeing him put his head down and dive at a players legs without really looking is the one thing that frustrates me more than anything watching steelers

  • falconsaftey43

    that play was a 3 step drop and the ball came out right on rhythm, not many pass rushes are going to impact that play.

  • falconsaftey43

    Well the throw on the left sideline he makes impact right at the catch point, that’s a good play by him. The one down the right side he has to cover the threat of both vertical routes because the inside and outside WRs both run vertical. He sits too far inside IMO, but he has to protect against that throw as well (like the one to the TE that was broken up). Running two verticals at a cover 2 safety is a classic route combination for a reason, it works.


    Xactly!! In addition to the speed comment. I love Gruden as an announcer…..
    And I also didn’t remember that Mitchell was that fast!

  • capehouse

    Yeah exactly what I was gonna say.

  • Av232

    I agree. If haden gets 2 steps deeper that goes from a great throw to great D. The film really drives home the speed of the game… At least to me.

  • Mark

    Good points

  • MC

    I think Mike was a lil rattled after that 12 yard gain hit on the RB. Sounded pretty heavy from what I remember also.

  • Matthew Marczi

    So I write an article attempting to come up with some criticism of the guy and now everybody likes him? Okay then, lol. I guess it’s easier to see what’s going on out of the heat of the moment, looking at a looping gif of the all-22 views.