Heath Miller Was Exploited In The Running Game By The Patriots

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By Matthew Marczi

After tight end Heath Miller had a terrific game in the run-blocking department against the Minnesota Vikings earlier this season, I elected to work under the false assumption that he was able to round into form earlier from his knee injury than anticipated. Since then, however, much of his blocking performance has been wanting, and it doesn’t really matter whether his knee has anything to do with it.

The fact of the matter is that on more occasions than is acceptable, Heath Miller continues to struggle as a blocker (and at times, even as a receiver), and this past game against the New England Patriots was no different.

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On the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first drive of the game, they began by moving the ball quite well. In fact, they were set up with a 2nd and 2 at the Patriots’ 36. But on the ensuing running play, linebacker Brandon Spikes was allowed to meet Le’Veon Bell in the C Gap with Marcus Gilbert combo-blocking the defensive tackle with Guy Whimper. Rob Ninkovich controlled Miller on the edge, however, preventing Bell from being able to cut the run outside. In fact, Ninkovich pushed Miller back into Bell, helping to knock him down.

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On the very next running play—following the sack-fumble and a three-and-out by the Patriots offense—Miller was once again beaten on the edge by Ninkovich for a negative rushing play. This time, it was a zone run, and Bell was really left with nowhere to go. But it was Miller beaten on the edge that resulted in Bell being dropped for a loss.

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Ninkovich continued to get the better of Miller when the two faced off throughout the evening. The example above was still, however, from the first quarter. Once again, it was Ninkovich controlling the edge rather than Miller, and once again, it prevented Bell from being able to bounce outside when the C Gap got clogged.

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This is the very next play. Despite trying to tackle Chandler Jones, the defensive end still got by him and was able to trip Bell up at the line of scrimmage. This was a 3rd and 3 play. Fortunately for Miller and the Steelers, Bell was able to fall forward enough to convert the first down, but it continued a somewhat troubling theme of sub-par run blocking from the Steelers’ former Pro Bowl tight end.

Is it a matter of still trying to work his way back? Are his talents simply diminishing, irrespective of his knee? Remember, these plays were all just pulled from the first quarter of the game. Frankly, it seems as though Miller is, if anything, is trending downward after having two strong games to start his 2013 season. Since then, however, he has really not been a part of the solution. This trend needs to end now before it becomes a problem.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Jason

    I was excited when Heath returned to the lineup and started to contribute right away. I assumed he would just keep getting better as the season went on but it seems the opposite is happening. He doesn’t seem to be anywhere near 100% to me and if it’s not the injury and simply a declining skill set the decision to take Jones and pass on Eifert could be one they regret.

  • 2443scott

    you hardly see anyone come back 100 % the next year after a knee injury …he might be healed to the point he can play but he prob still gets fluid or swelling and is weak….plus they have new running and blocking and a new line coach all where heath hasnt practiced with so its understand able …and he might be still a little slow at getting that burst because of the knee to be in spot for the catch once where ben knew heath could respond to a not perfect ball and make the catch hes still getting used to not haveing that burst to help ….i image next year he be back to his old self ….at lease he has a good excuse i cant say that of some of the others .

  • Jason

    Not doubt he has an excuse for not being 100%. He seems to drag the bad leg sometimes and hindsight being 20/20 I’d probably have let him heal the rest of this season but at the time of his return I really didn’t think we’d be 2-6 at the halfway point. Heath is as tough as they come and I agree he has more of an excuse than many others who are underachieving

  • steeltown

    Yea, I would imagine he is favoring the leg a little and maybe even has a little happy feet while getting re-acclimated to the game. Like you said, he has an excuse for not playing at a high level, hopefully he gets stronger and more comfortable as the weeks roll on.

    Regardless, I have had TE high on my list since last year, we didn’t draft one, fine because we had the young hopeful Paulson and had brought back Spaeth for blocking. Well Spaeth is hurt and Paulson looks like a 7th Rd pick

    Even if Miller is given an extension, even if Spaeth returns stronger than ever, we still need the next generation TE with good pedigree

  • Shannon Stephenson

    It normally take 1 full year back to get back to 100% from a major knee injury and we forget his age. He may get a little bit better but the honest truth is he is on the wrong side of his career. Next year will be a important year but I thought this last draft a early TE was needed to begin the replacement process.

  • MP34

    Could we please let Tyler Eifert go? Unless you really think Tyler Eifert (29 rec, 1TD).. could have won us 3 more games this year, it’s a moot point. Jarvis Jones has no where near reached bust status, and neither of these guys can play Left Tackle.

  • steeltown

    Agreed

  • steeltown

    I think he has a few good yrs left in him, but yes we need to draft a TE and not in the 7th Rd.. someone in the early-mid Rds like last yrs Zach Ertz or Jordan Reed out of Florida

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Totally agree. We have bigger needs but I hope we can stay on top on some of these positions.

  • steeltown

    Definitely, OT and DB are huge needs heading into 2014, but TE is right up there

  • Madi

    It’s the injury. Or, perhaps more specifically, his lack of strength due to the injury. That’s what’s different. He didn’t go from Tight End God down to mere mortal simply because he aged one year. I’m thinking being unable to work out and practice affected him. Maybe he’s just one of those guys that needs the time in the weight room and the reps. Assuming he stays healthy and has a full offseason, I expect him to return to form (or a lot closer to it) next year.

  • steeltown

    Indeed

  • CrazyTerry

    It is clearly the injury. I dont understand the unreliability he has developed as a WR. But I do understand the decline in blocking. Blocking is much harder on that knee especially the line of scrimmage blocks where he has to plant that knee.

  • SteelersDepot

    I’m not surprised at all and warned about it as was about to return: http://www.steelersdepot.com/2013/09/superman-heath-miller-run-blocking-phone-booth/

  • cencalsteeler

    I’m going to make a spin thought on this Miller situation. I don’t think it’s his knee at all. Doctors have cleared him to play and the NFL has the best staff of medical doctors and trainers around. To me, this proves a point of how important drive and integrity come into playing sports. One of the missing links to this season. I was at a game this season, and I saw things that the cameras don’t show. This team is lethargic. They are just going through the motions. Hardly any motivation was shown on the field. While the opponents bench was huddled going over the last series of downs with their coaches, the Steelers were on the sidelines sitting there looking lost. While the opponents qb was on the sidelines throwing the ball to keep warm, Ben was standing on the sidelines with his arms crossed.
    Miller has all the physical attributes of being a stellar te, but if you are not into it mentally, then we all see the results like the ones Matt has pointed out.

  • treeher

    Not only that, but he got back on the field in near record time. With the extent of his knee, you’d expect 12 months for full recovery (strength, confidence, etc)

  • Mike Carroll

    I recall earlier this year Dave Bryan saying that, despite popular opinion, Heath did not grade out well as a run blocker last year before the injury.

  • Mike Carroll

    OK, I now see Dave has replied here with the article I remembered. (Heath was ranked 35th among TEs in run blocking in 2012 according to PFF.)

  • Shea Fahr

    Heath is my favorite player period. That being said, there were signs of his blocking downslide even before his injury last year, particularly at the line of scrimmage…still, he is my favorite player.

  • Shea Fahr

    While I generally agree with most of your comments on this site, there is NO way you can convince me that Miller is just not into it mentally. Sorry…

  • Shea Fahr

    And I think Spaeth was number 1…we really need him back asap.

  • cencalsteeler

    I don’t want you to think I am pointing out Miller individually. My comment is based on the team as a whole. Have you ever been in a great mood and whistling walking down the street and walk into the dentists office for a visit? You check in, grab a magazine and sit down. Everyone is just sitting there, it’s quiet and the elevator music is being pumped in. 15-20 minutes goes by and you notice you start yawning and checking your watch wondering what is taking so long? Everyone else is sitting there bored and the longer you wait, the more irritated you get and your yawns become more frequent. Now your tired and maybe a little on edge because you’ve been waiting so long. What happened to the good mood you were in earlier? Answer, the environment you were in, brought your mood to coincide with your surroundings. It’s human nature. Again, no pointing the finger at Heath, but maybe it’s hard for him based on the environment he’s surrounded by.

  • Shea Fahr

    I do respect your analogy and in many ways agree with it when it comes to human nature. But you and I both have watched Miller long enough that we know that he of all people do not fall into that category. TO-yes, Ocho Cinco-yes, Miller-No Way.

  • Arthur Branch

    The new Hybrid TE’s like Eifert are plentiful in college now a days. Guys that play in the spread and are basically another WR, The Steelers need to TE like Heath that when healthy is just as good a blocker as he is a pass catcher.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I have NT as our biggest need but there are so many does it matter…lol

  • Shannon Stephenson

    could you tell us that we are going to win 8 games in a row and be right on that one too. :)

  • sean mcmartin

    Time to acquire the next Eric Green That would be fun to watch..

  • 2winz

    I only see a problem with the last GIF.. he does well blocking in my opinion.. he holds his blocks, what more do you want? the 1st GIF, he was pushed a little, but the other guys get paid too, and even if he held his block, there is a guy right there unblocked.

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    Daag Heath set the edge

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    Same situation in 06 and he played fine?

  • http://www.nyob.com/ Dr. Doom

    He would be playing as much as Jarvis does