Mitchell becoming quite valuable

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mike Mitchell is intense. He walks a fine line between smart and too aggressive as we saw during the preseason when he got a couple of personal fouls.

He's also becoming one of the unsung heroes on a Carolina Panthers defense ranked No. 3 in the NFL.

Since moving from strong safety to free after starter Charles Godfrey suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 2, Mitchell has been a big reason the secondary no longer is considered the Achilles of the defense.

His presence has been especially felt the past two games as he's collected three interceptions -- two in Sunday's 35-10 victory at Minnesota -- to move into a tie for second in the league in that category.

But it's the things that aren't so visible that have made Mitchell so valuable.

"He's really stepped up his leadership in the secondary, making the calls, making the checks,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "The interesting thing about him is he's very emphatic about his checks, so if he's wrong we're all wrong and we play them together.''

That's a good thing, because right or wrong everyone is on the same page. And when everybody is pulling in the same direction good things typically happen.

"The thing I love about Mike is he's a physical presence for us, and that's important in terms of the mental, physical toughness of the defense,'' defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said.

Mitchell was a bit too aggressive with his physicality twice during the preseason and once early this season, drawing penalties. But his teammates don't seem to mind.

"I can appreciate it, personally,'' defensive end Greg Hardy said. "I can't speak for anybody else. That's what I'm about. Go hard or go home. He's my type of guy. I love him.''

Mitchell is a prime example of next man up in the NFL. He won the starting strong safety job during the preseason, lost it to Quintin Mikell after missing the first game with a calf injury, and then got a new starting job with Godfrey's injury.

"Mike's got a certain way about him,'' Rivera said. "If we can keep him right at that fine line ... that's who he is and I appreciate that style of football.''

Statistically speaking: A few stats that may interest you compliments of Pro Football Focus:

  • Travelle Wharton, in his first start for Amini Silatolu (ACL) at left guard, posted the best grade for a Carolina offensive lineman this season. He graded out at plus-5.2.

  • Hardy didn't have a sack against Minnesota, but his six quarterback hurries were a season high for him.

  • Left defensive end Charles Johnson has gotten pressure on the quarterback 18.5 percent of his pass rushes. That is the second-highest rate in the NFL for players with at least 100 pass rushes.