With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team as a whole has suffered its ups and downs throughout the season, particularly the bi-polar offense that prefers the comforts of home. Even with all the road struggles, however, the Steelers are ranked seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 26.2 points per game.
On the flip side, the defense has struggled not only with youth and inexperience but also with injuries, en route to posting the 19th-best defense in points allowed, giving up 23.9 points per game, with hopes to start changing that down the home stretch.
Player: Heath Miller, TE
Veteran tight end Heath Miller may not be the player that he once was, but he can be a fairly convincing facsimile at times.
Now a year further removed from a severe knee injury, the 32-year-old has been able to get back to doing more of the dirty work in the blocking department, even with Matt Spaeth having been re-signed to take some of those responsibilities off of him.
As a matter of fact, no tight end (that hasn’t already played his 12th game on Thursday) has logged more snaps in 2014 than has the Steelers tight end. He has been a workhorse for this team for the past decade, and he continues to produce.
On the season, Miller is third on the team with 43 receptions, and second with 501 yards. Only Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant have more than Miller’s two touchdown receptions on the team.
He is on pace to top 700 receiving yards for the third time in his career. It would also be the third time that he tops 60 receptions, both of which came in the same seasons in which he topped 700 yards.
What’s more, following a slow start, Miller has improved his yards per catch from the beginning of the season to 11.7, which is higher than his career average. The Steelers have done a nice job of scheming him open down the field, which has helped him produce 11 plays of 15 yards or more, three of which came in the team’s last game.
Also emerging over the course of the past couple of game has been a throwback performance as a run blocker. Miller has looked like his pre-injury self in this department recently, where he struggled a year ago.
The Steelers have turned to their tight ends of late to provide a lift to the running game, which helped power the offense to one of their finest showings on the ground in years.
Miller was instrumental in this, but he was about the only one on the team the week prior who did well in this area. His work in pass protection has left a little to be desired, but with improved line play, he hasn’t been asked to stay in to block nearly as frequently.