Seemingly lost amidst the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers were unable to capitalize on their offensive opportunities during Thursday’s loss against the New England Patriots is the fact that veteran tight end Heath Miller quietly had a very productive game as a pass catcher, among the better efforts, statistically, in recent seasons.
The soon to be 33-year-old tight end caught eight passes for 84 yards, trailing only Antonio Brown in both categories for the team lead. Miller had at least eight receptions twice during the 2014 season, and gained at least 80 yards on three occasions.
His first target came early in the game, on the opening drive on what was a run-pass option as the Steelers methodically worked down the field. With the Patriots showing eight defenders in the box against a three-tight end set, Ben Roethlisberger used play action to hold the middle linebacker, freeing up Miller for a catch and run of 14 yards.
On the final play of the third quarter, Miller set the Steelers up with a first and goal at the eight-yard line as he smartly ran away from the defender across the middle of the field while Roethlisberger extended the play by holding on to the ball, picking up a quick six yards on second down and five.
Late in the game, the veteran looked to be running a tight end cross, but brushed the linebacker aside, working instead up the seam to complete an 18-yard reception. What Miller lacks in speed at this stage of his career he makes up for in deftness of route running and understanding of defensive tendencies.
In all, Roethlisberg targeted Miller unofficially on 12 targets, resulting in four incompletions, one of which drew a pass interference in the end zone. One ball was overthrown, another was deliberately thrown out of the back of the end zone, and the final incompletion hung up short on a tough pass at the tail end of a scramble drill.
It is fair to point out that two of his receptions came on third and impossibly long situations, gaining 10 yards with 22 needed for a first down at the end of that first drive, and then ending the second drive with a 17-yard reception with 18 necessary to move the chains. The final 18-yard reception also came in garbage time.
Of course, Miller’s game was never predicated purely on his receiving abilities. He has always been a complete tight end, a breed of player that Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert lamented is becoming harder and harder to come by from the college ranks during the draft process.
And Miller certainly showed off his blocking abilities during the game as well, throwing a screen block out on the edge on the second play of the game and sending the safety all the way to the sideline. He may be drawing near the end of his career, but we’re talking how many years, and not how many games.