Unheralded Miller is Steelers' secret weapon

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
10:42
AM ET
Fittingly, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Heath Miller wasn’t asked to be among the six players involved in the first Super Bowl XLV interviews.

[+] EnlargeHeath Miller
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesHeath Miller had a big game in a win over the Packers last season, catching seven passes for 118 yards.
Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward wore a black cowboy hat, making a statement for his arrival in Dallas. Right tackle Flozell Adams, normally considered a grump, fielded questions about a Steelers tribute by defensive players who wore his jersey Monday. A bearded Ben Roethlisberger answered questions about his suspension and his once-troubled life away from football. He finished each question with a smile.

But Miller was his usual stealth self, quietly going to his room just as he quietly does his job. Miller is the Steelers' secret weapon against the Green Bay Packers. He blocks. He catches passes. He’s the perfect teammate. He checks his ego as he enters the locker room. He could end up being the key player in Sunday’s game against the Packers.

Statistically, Miller had his worst season since 2006, but his play goes beyond the numbers. Miller caught 42 passes for 512 yards and only two touchdowns during the regular season. Injuries to the Steelers' two starting offensive tackles limited his opportunities to go out in routes.

"We never made any big adjustments," Miller said. But he was asked to do more blocking this year.

One of the most interesting parts of the Steelers 24-19 AFC Championship Game victory over the New York Jets was the expanded use of the three-tight-end set. The Steelers used it about 15 times, and that formation featured Miller.

Two tight ends would stay in to block, and that maximum protection gave Roethlisberger a chance to throw some deeper routes to Miller, who had a critical 24-yard completion.

"You know, the three-tight-end formation is a predominant run formation," Miller said. "Once you establish the run, you can leak out and get some play-action. We had the three tight ends in our plans, and we were successful with it early. Rashard Mendenhall did a great job of finding the holes and getting the yards."

Tight ends have been a problem for the Packers all season. They were a problem last year, too. Miller caught seven passes for 118 yards against the Packers last year in the Steelers' 37-36 victory in Heinz Field.

Even though the Packers field three Pro Bowlers -- Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson and Nick Collins -- in their secondary, they have been vulnerable against good tight ends for the past couple of seasons. Mike McCarthy hasn’t been able to find two decent safeties for coverage. Woodson flips between safety and corner in some schemes, and if quarterbacks are able to move him away from designed routes, the middle of the field is open for big plays.

Miller could be the big target for those types of plays. With Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey expected to miss the game with a high ankle sprain, the Steelers might be tempted to use more two- or three-tight-end sets to run the football.

"Guys have stepped up after the injuries," Miller said. "The offensive line has done a good job. They’ve done a good job all year long. We run with confidence because guys stepped up.’’

Expect Miller to step up in Super Bowl XLV.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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