When the Pittsburgh Steelers first brought Todd Haley into the fold as the team’s new offensive coordinator, he instantly turned to veteran tight end Heath Miller as a focal point for his offensive ideology.
In 2012, Miller set career-highs in receiving yards and touchdown receptions topping 70 receptions (or 60 receptions for that matter) for only the second time in his career.
He did so in 15 games, because in that fifteenth game, he tore up his knee, an injury that lingered throughout the offseason and hampered him into and throughout the 2013 season, which included missing the first two games.
Though his year, statistically, was fairly solid—his 58 receptions and 597 yards were third- and fourth-best in his career, respectively—he also set a career-low with just 10.2 yards per reception, and caught just one touchdown on a shovel pass.
After a career-high 10 receptions yesterday, Miller is on pace to record more catches in 2014 than in any prior season. He also caught his first touchdown pass in 14 games—twice, actually, after the first one was negated by a penalty.
But Ben Roethlisberger has also been struggling to get his tight end the ball in space. This was less true in the last two games than in the first two, but through the first quarter of the season, he’s averaging nearly a full yard less per reception than his career-worst at 9.4.
Perhaps that is beginning to change. While his high volume of receptions yesterday chipped away at his yards per catch, the big tight end was able to get in space a few times, topping with a 19-yard reception on the day.
His four receptions for 51 yard the week before also included a 30-yard pass.
In all honesty, in some ways it feels that the offense is still trying to work him back into the offense for the past two years, after almost allowing the offense to run through him a few years ago before his knee injury.
It’s true that he’s certainly not gained a step with his injury. It remains more difficult for him to gain separation, which is corroborated by the number of plays he’s had so far this year that have gone for little to no yards after contact.
In the last game alone, four of his 10 receptions went for five yards or less, though that, of course, included his touchdown reception. All but two of his 10 receptions went for 10 yards or less, adding receptions of 16 and 19 yards.
This has coincided with the Steelers using Miller as more of a screen target rather than down the field. His targets this year have come within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage around four-fifths of the time. The ratio was closer to 2:1 within 10 yards back in 2012.