Steelers: Why Mike Mitchell Is The True X-Factor On Defense


X-Factor:  A variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.”

If you look throughout the world of sporting news, you will see many different instances of X-Factors for the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the defense in the transitional period that it is in, answers will be sought after high and low. Often times in the most unusual of places.

You will see claims that it is Jarvis Jones with his so far inconsistent career in the NFL, and if he has the ability to lead a linebacking corps into the future. That, or if he will fall flat on his face and be another first round pick to be shuffled out of the Steel City in disappointment.

Others will point to Cortez Allen. Unofficially tasked with slowly taking charge of the future of the cornerback roster when given a hefty contract extension before the 2014 season, injuries and demoralization would see him benched and placed on the I/R list. Can he seize the spot left vacant by Ike Taylor, or will he be usurped by a duo of promising rookie prospects?

While both of these players would potentially make good candidates for the title of X-Factor, they take a backseat to the man who truly fills the position. An athlete who many in Steelers’ Nation have called to be stripped of his starting position, or removed from the team all together.

The Steelers Defensive X-Factor in 2015 will be safety Mike Mitchell.

We all know the disappointing season that was Mitchell’s first year in Pittsburgh, as well as the expectations that came along with it. After a successful single year stint in Carolina, it was thought that his endeavors would transition well when the safety signed a five year contract to become a Steeler.

Unfortunately, a groin injury suffered early in the year would inhibit him for the length of the 2014 regular season. Even with his injury he would not miss any of the 17 games the Steelers played last year. He recorded a career high 71 tackles (Second only to Lawrence Timmons) and two forced fumbles.

His drive to stay on the field and ability to find the ball carrier are not what will make him the Steelers’ defensive X-Factor in 2015. Many more factors contribute to why Mitchell will be one of the most important players on the field come next year.

He will be called upon to serve as a leader and mentor to a group of very young defensive backs. Shamarko Thomas will likely be starting at strong safety this year, and will look to his tenured teammate as a source of inspiration and knowledge.

His services should not be exclusive to the safety position, either. Rookie cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Doran Grant, as well as returning young star Antwon Blake, could see him as the vocal leader in the secondary and someone who can help rally the troops in times of uncertainty. For a group that is starting to come together and find its identity, times such as those will be present.

As the secondary starts to mature and improve over time, it will not become so reliant on the front seven to continuously bail them out or take up the slack that they have had to in the past. Older players that should have moved on seasons ago are no longer there, and a new regime is slowly building in the Steelers’ backfeild.

Sep 28, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell (23) reacts during player introductions before playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field. The Buccaneers won 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Not only will he be able to help mold a bright future for the Steelers’ secondary, he has the opportunity to improve himself as an athlete, as well. After an offseason surgery to repair his torn groin, he will be able to focus on areas he was unable to last season in order fully prepare himself for the challenges that lie ahead.

The Steelers need a threat defender in their secondary. Troy Polamalu is no longer in the backfield to be the fearsome safety that quarterbacks and offensive coordinators have to account for. Mike Mitchell has the ability to be that player.

His hard hitting ability is well documented in his time in the NFL. He can use that notoriety to build upon a reputation that will make the league think of a dangerous unit that can create headaches for offenses, and not think of the time Drew Brees threw five touchdowns against them last year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a difficult task ahead of them in terms of once again becoming a relevant defense in the National Football League. With Mike Mitchell as their X-Factor, as well as other key players, they will enter 2015 ready to make a strong run for a seventh title and bring the Lombardi trophy back to Pittsburgh.

Next: Steelers MMQB

More from Still Curtain