The Pittsburgh Steelers have had the luxury of tight end Heath Miller’s services for nine full seasons now, with 2014 being his tenth. Although he has only been named to a pair of Pro Bowls during that time, his value to the team has gone far beyond mere accolades.
Miller is an increasingly rare breed of tight end that is as much lineman as receiver, blocking defensive ends and outside linebackers in pass protection. It has been his blocking prowess and the Steelers’ weak offensive line that has kept him inside to block so frequently, and thus out of the Pro Bowl ballots.
Admittedly, his blocking is not quite what it once was. Last year in particular was a struggle for Miller as he recovered from a significant knee injury, but the last few years cumulatively have not necessarily lived up to his own standards as a blocker.
Here is a look at some of Miller’s work last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. As you will see below, he still has his struggles as a blocker, particularly in terms of maintaining, but he typically does enough to get the job done.
The veteran tight end’s night got off to an inauspicious start when he failed to seal off linebacker Connor Barwin. Barwin was able to use his arm to separate from the tight end and push inside to get in on the tackle on Le’Veon Bell.
Later in the first quarter, Miller was blocking away from the play until LeGarrette Blount decided to cut back on the run. Notice Miller lined up off the left shoulder of Matt Spaeth, who is lined up next to the left tackle. Miller pulled all the way to the right, and assumed he would be blocking away from the play, engaging Barwin. Had he seen Blount’s cut back he may have attacked DeMeco Ryans instead.
Miller went up against Barwin yet again in the second quarter, this time in pass protection. He was able to mirror the outside linebacker well, and was aggressive off the snap, attacking instead of reacting and putting Barwin at an early disadvantage. I know how much commenters like to talk about everybody else in the play, however, so I’ll go ahead and note Dri Archer doing a nice job of picking up the free rusher here.
With Will Johnson still out, Miller often found himself in an h-back type role, and often pulling. We saw that above on a previous play, and he did it twice in a row with the Steelers backed up near their own goal line. On first down, lined up to the right of the formation, he joined David DeCastro on the pull with the guard taking on Ryans and Miller attempting to take Mychal Kendricks out of the hole. He wasn’t entirely successful, but it led to a nice gain on the play.
The Steelers ran the exact same play out of the exact same formation on second down, only this time it was Beau Allen trying to play the gap instead of a slight linebacker. Miller got a good initial hit, but Blount decided to cut back up the right side anyway, which was probably the right decision.
Early in the third quarter, Miller was beaten off the ball by Brandon Graham, who used his arm extension to get inside Miller and chase down Bell, forcing him to the right edge and nearly making the tackle himself.