By Matthew Marczi
Jerricho Cotchery has posted some big numbers for a slot receiver during the course of this season, including 103 receiving yards against the Minnesota Vikings, and seven catches with three touchdowns against the New England Patriots.
Since that game in New England though, Cotchery’s production has been on the decline. Though he has three touchdowns in the four games since then, he only has eight receptions for a total of 85 yards.
Those numbers include just two receptions for six yards last week against the Baltimore Ravens and nothing against the Cleveland Browns the week prior. Conversely, tight end Heath Miller’s production has gone up.
Over the last three games, Miller has 21 receptions for 192 yards. Though he has not gotten into the end zone since the Week Seven game against Baltimore on a shovel pass, he came close to doing so twice last week.
More importantly, he generally seems to be getting more comfortable once again both in himself and in the offense.
While he did surprisingly well in his first game or so back from his ACL tear, he quickly fell back down to reality, and has muddled through a mostly frustrating and ineffective season, particularly off the ball.
We saw last week, however, the Miller can still be the go-to target for Ben Roethlisberger when push comes to shove. Roethlisberger went to Miller on three consecutive passes on the Steelers’ final drive that nearly tied the game, and he hit Miller for a 19-yard pass on the 20-yard line on what initially appeared to be a touchdown.
It’s no wonder, since he is proving once again that he can be reliable. Over the last three games, his 21 receptions have come on just 25 targets, including one pass that was batted down at the line of scrimmage. And since dropping two passes against the Buffalo Bills, he has yet to do so again.
Now that Miller appears to be close to his old self, perhaps that helps explain the diminished role that Cotchery has played over the past few weeks in the passing game.
Head coach Mike Tomlin remarked earlier in the season that Cotchery’s success had been a byproduct of the way defenses were playing the rest of the Steelers’ receiving threats, and that included Miller.
Now that teams can’t take Cotchery for granted any more, things have continued to open up for the underneath targets, including Le’Veon Bell, but especially Miller. With the recent offensive line injuries, the Steelers are going to need those underneath targets to be as reliable as ever as they push for a postseason run in the final quarter of the regular season.