By Matthew Marczi
After tight end Heath Miller had a terrific game in the run-blocking department against the Minnesota Vikings earlier this season, I elected to work under the false assumption that he was able to round into form earlier from his knee injury than anticipated. Since then, however, much of his blocking performance has been wanting, and it doesn’t really matter whether his knee has anything to do with it.
The fact of the matter is that on more occasions than is acceptable, Heath Miller continues to struggle as a blocker (and at times, even as a receiver), and this past game against the New England Patriots was no different.
On the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first drive of the game, they began by moving the ball quite well. In fact, they were set up with a 2nd and 2 at the Patriots’ 36. But on the ensuing running play, linebacker Brandon Spikes was allowed to meet Le’Veon Bell in the C Gap with Marcus Gilbert combo-blocking the defensive tackle with Guy Whimper. Rob Ninkovich controlled Miller on the edge, however, preventing Bell from being able to cut the run outside. In fact, Ninkovich pushed Miller back into Bell, helping to knock him down.
On the very next running play—following the sack-fumble and a three-and-out by the Patriots offense—Miller was once again beaten on the edge by Ninkovich for a negative rushing play. This time, it was a zone run, and Bell was really left with nowhere to go. But it was Miller beaten on the edge that resulted in Bell being dropped for a loss.
Ninkovich continued to get the better of Miller when the two faced off throughout the evening. The example above was still, however, from the first quarter. Once again, it was Ninkovich controlling the edge rather than Miller, and once again, it prevented Bell from being able to bounce outside when the C Gap got clogged.
This is the very next play. Despite trying to tackle Chandler Jones, the defensive end still got by him and was able to trip Bell up at the line of scrimmage. This was a 3rd and 3 play. Fortunately for Miller and the Steelers, Bell was able to fall forward enough to convert the first down, but it continued a somewhat troubling theme of sub-par run blocking from the Steelers’ former Pro Bowl tight end.
Is it a matter of still trying to work his way back? Are his talents simply diminishing, irrespective of his knee? Remember, these plays were all just pulled from the first quarter of the game. Frankly, it seems as though Miller is, if anything, is trending downward after having two strong games to start his 2013 season. Since then, however, he has really not been a part of the solution. This trend needs to end now before it becomes a problem.