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Old 12-24-2010, 10:33 AM   #1
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Default Steelers' Miller makes his presence felt

Steelers' Miller makes his presence felt
By: Andrew Chiappazzi
Beaver County Times

Friday December 24, 2010 12:33 AM

PITTSBURGH — Four plays into the Steelers’ first drive against Carolina, Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass and hit Heath Miller with a perfect 20-yard strike over the middle. Miller used his forearm to break a tackle and take the ball down to the Panthers 11-yard line.

The play didn’t lead to a touchdown — the Steelers only managed a field goal — but it was an emphatic return to the lineup for the tight end.

While Miller might thank Roethlisberger for a perfect pass and an early opportunity to get his feet wet after missing two games due to a concussion, he’ll also want to look a few locker stalls down and give a pat on the back to the man who just might have sparked a renewed emphasis on the tight end in the Steelers’ offense.

That man is the beleaguered Matt Spaeth, Miller’s backup and the one who had two opportunities to defeat the Jets slip through his hands. Spaeth was targeted eight times against the Jets, the most that Roethlisberger looked toward a tight end in a game since he targeted Miller nine times against the Patriots.

While Spaeth slipped back into his reserve role as primarily a blocker, Miller stepped back into the offense and became an early target for Roethlisberger in the Steelers’ romp over Carolina. Miller caught five of the six balls thrown his way for 73 yards. For a guy who caught 76 passes a year ago, it seems like a normal day. But it was a season high for Miller.

The importance of a high-quality tight end to the Steelers’ offense cannot be overlooked. Yes, the fans love Miller and are aware of his skills, but Miller also has a very tangible effect on the Steelers’ ability to put points on the scoreboard.

Since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007, the Steelers’ offense has ranked 17th, 22nd, seventh and 19th in points per game. Miller’s corresponding reception totals for those seasons are 47, 48, 76 and 38 catches.

It’s a small sample size, and it’s open to additional factors — including performance of teammates, play-calling, opponent game plan and various in-game situations. But only a few tight ends have the capability to both block well and pose as distinct receiving threats. Those tight ends comparable to Miller — San Diego’s Antonio Gates, Dallas’ Jason Witten, Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez — are all large presences in their team’s offenses.

Miller’s presence also provides a small increase in the team’s chances of winning a game. Tomlin is 42-21 as coach of the Steelers, a .666 winning percentage. When Miller catches four or more passes in the Tomlin era, the Steelers are 17-8 for a .680 winning percentage.

It’s a small increase, but if the Steelers’ use Miller correctly, it could be the difference between a Super Bowl and an early tee time.
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Old 12-24-2010, 01:48 PM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers' Miller makes his presence felt

Best TE in the league.
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