The Pittsburgh Steelers spent much of the time between their last playoff victory and now replenishing their roster in preparation for their next chance to make a push for a championship. Last season showed signs that the team was on its way out of that transitional phase after posting a division-winning 11-5 record following back to back .500 seasons.
Still, the Steelers failed to make it out of the divisional round, and have lost their last three postseason contests, dating back to Super Bowl XLV. They followed up that 2010 run with a 12-4 wildcard campaign that saw a first-round exit, and subsequently failed to return to the playoffs the following two years.
So how close might they be to righting the ship and returning to that place that they have been more than any other franchise—that is, holding up the Lombardi Trophy? One way to attempt to measure that would be to compare how this season’s lineup projects against past teams.
For these purposes, it might be helpful to cite both the 2008 and 2010 teams, which are, respectively, the teams that have claimed their most recent Super Bowl championship and their most recent Super Bowl appearance.
There have only been two consistent presences in the starting lineup of each of the Steelers’ past three appearances who remain on the roster. One of them, obviously, is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, generally the featured position of any team hoping to make a run at a championship.
The other player would be tight end Heath Miller, who was a rookie starter in 2005 when the Steelers claimed their first championship since the 70s dynasty era. In 2008 and 2010, the two most recent trips to the Super Bowl for the Steelers, Miller was a fixture, although he coincidentally missed two games each year due to injury.
Those two seasons also happen to be among his least productive, although that is obviously partially explained by the time missed. In 2008, he posted 48 receptions for 514 yards and three touchdowns. In 2010, he posted 42 receptions for 512 yards and two touchdowns.
Excluding his first two seasons, in which he was still being developed into the offense outside of the red zone, those numbers rank as amongst the worst of his career. Miller’s 66 receptions and 761 yards are actually the third-best totals of each category in his 10-year career.
That’s not to say that he remains at or close to his peak performance. Indeed, he has had to adapt his game some, and the offense has changed the way that it gets him the ball. He is no longer the threat after contact that he once was either. But as the numbers suggest, he remains highly productive and involved in the passing game.
Once regarded as among the best two-way tight ends in the game, Miller still presents a formidable and versatile showing as a receiver and a blocker. And old school type of tight end, he is asked to do things that others simply are not in this era.
And while he may not be Roethlisberger’s go-to security blanket anymore with the emergence of Le’Veon Bell, his consistent presence remains a source of comfort. Some of his previous tasks have been outsourced to other players, but Miller is still capable of playing at a championship level.