Mike Mitchell has heard the criticism, much of it on social media, and while the veteran safety understands it to an extent, it still surprises him.
"Based on some of thing things I still hear, I wonder how they could still say that," said Mitchell. "Some people will tweet, 'He is always celebrating.' or 'I have never seen him make a play.' I don't know how you could make that statement."
His hits, some of the most punishing and physical ones you will see, do in fact come with celebrations at times. And sometimes have drawn penalties. But for Mitchell it's never about trying to show up an opponent, it's never about disrespecting the game.
It's about passion. It's about loving what he is doing. It's about just enjoying the moment, enjoying what he works so hard to accomplish. Something he works day in and day out to perfect, so he figures he should enjoy it, just like everyone else enjoys the fruits of their labors.
"Some people think this is a Sunday type of job for us," said Mitchell. "If you thought it was a one or two day job, you might think this guy celebrates too much.
"But if you think about it, this is my life's work. I was four years old telling my dad I want to be a pro football player. There was never another option for me. I dedicated my entire life to this. When I make a play, I think about all of the hard work, the hours I put in for film study. When I do celebrate that is years of hard work and I am excited about that. It's hard. These are the best players in the world and I am excited when I make a play that helps my team."
Mitchell admits it used to bother him when he heard the comments. Last year he lashed out on social media after hearing the criticism of his play during a time when he was playing injured. This year, he just ignores the critics and stays focused on his play.
"When it comes down to things like that, it's a maturity thing," said Mitchell. "I think last year I really cared too much about what outsiders thought about me. I understand not everyone is going to like me and I am okay and know the people that are in my life and love me. I appreciate them and still put my best foot forward to be the best person I can be because I know who I am. As long as I stay true to that the outside opinions really don't matter."
There are a few opinions that do matter to Mitchell though. First and foremost are his parents, in particular his father who he describes as his biggest supporter. Right there with his parents is Coach Mike Tomlin, someone who he respects, admires and thrives on feedback from, both positive and negative. That feedback was visible when Tomlin was mic'd up for the Steelers-Broncos game, telling Mitchell, 'don't blink' multiple times, assuring that he stayed focused and kept the defense that way and commending him on his growth.
"I love Coach Tomlin. I genuinely do," said Mitchell. "There are some eerily similarities to him and my father as men. It's because of their honesty. My dad is my number one. But he is also my biggest supporter. He always tells me the truth, the stuff you don't want to hear. As you get older in life you realize the person that does that is the one that cares about you the most. Coach Tomlin is no different. He has always been 100 percent honest with me. When you have understanding, you can communicate. I feel like Coach Tomlin and I are on the same page. I played bad last year. I got in trouble on social media, and he stood by me. And that is what he was talking about when he talked about growth.
"There would be times before, being a younger player and my passion, if something wasn't going right I would be on the sidelines frustrated. That has changed. We need to stay calm and bring the group together. I think that is what Coach was talking about with my growth. I am older. I am expected to be a leader. I have a lot of experience I can share to calm the waters and I think that is what he was talking about."
That growth, and being healthy, has definitely aided Mitchell this year. He is having one of the best seasons of his career, with 75 tackles, three interceptions, eight passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
And he isn't afraid to talk about how good he is. And realize, he doesn't say these things because he is arrogant or cocky, and not because he is trying to make himself sound great. That isn't the way he was raised, that doesn't flow with the Christian values he embraces and the lessons he has learned. That isn't the person he is. He actually is humble, someone who does countless good deeds for others, deeds you don't hear about because he doesn't talk about them. Deeds often times discovered by accident, from the recipients rather than him.
But he is confident, he believes in himself as every athlete should, and his values have taught him to always work to be the best you can be.
"Some guys might have more interceptions than me, but I can change games," said Mitchell. "I think I am aggressive, the best safety in football right now. If you watch wide receivers, they don't come across the middle. Running backs get down. It's a sign of respect."
And respect is something Mitchell is earning for the season he is having.