Heath Miller Key In Improved Steelers Running Game

Two years ago, in his first year under new offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s system, veteran tight end Heath Miller was having arguably the best season of his career all around, being pass catching to blocking.

After he suffered a knee injury in the penultimate game of the 2012 season, he was able to come back in 2013, missing only the first two games of the year, even if he wasn’t quite the same player.

He labored through parts of the season, and seemed to wear down more easily as a run blocker after his first few games back. While he still put up some numbers as a receiving option, they paled in comparison to the year before, particularly as it pertained to putting the ball in the end zone.

The Steelers signed him to a two-year contract extension this offseason, and there was belief that they would be getting back a bit more of the old Heath Miller with an extra year separating himself from that serious knee injury.

By and large, however, his play as a blocker has been streaky and inconsistent at best throughout the course of much of the season. He’s put up some big games as a receiver, even if it seems Ben Roethlisberger has to scheme him open a bit more than usual, but we knew that would come. Whether or not he would be able to rediscover his form as a blocker was the bigger question.

His last two games in that department have been a renaissance, particularly during Le’Veon Bell’s exceptional 33-carry, 204-yard performance against the Tennessee Titans on the road. Even though the running game struggled the week before in New York, the 32-year old former Pro Bowler was the one consistently positive factor in the ground game.

What is to be read into this stretch of back-to-back performances as a run blocker, if anything? Is there a real, discernable difference, or is it merely a coincidence that two of his most successful games in this department have come in consecutive games, despite their very different end results?

The Steelers had gotten away from running the ball somewhat in recent weeks while they were spellbound by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s magnificent display over the course of a three-game homestand that saw the team briefly take hold of the division lead.

As the passing game soared, the running game became a grind, and it almost seemed as though Bell had forgotten he was drafted as a running back. After all, he is 11th in the league in receptions. But if he had indeed forgotten, he certainly received a reminder Monday night, especially when he got the opportunity to run behind Miller, David DeCastro, and Will Johnson on the move.

As Mike Tomlin alluded to in the locker room after the game, that may be the recipe for success as the calendar turns to the colder months of the year, particularly on the road. It may be no surprise that the team’s two best rushing performances of the year have come away from Heinz Field. If that performance, from both Bell and Miller, is a sign of things to come, then it could not have come at a better time.

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