If you didn’t look up Heath Miller’s age, how old would you guess he is? It seems like he’s been in the NFL for ages and in a tactical and talent sense, maybe he has.
He’s an old school, traditional “Y” tight end that often lines up with his hand in the ground at the end of the trenches while blocking in a power running offense. There doesn’t seem to be enough of those nowadays, especially with the widening formations that continue to infiltrate the league and the detaching of tight ends from the offensive line.
Miller is 30 years old now, which is the beginning of the end for many football players. But he’s still running like the young Heath, and he’s having arguably his best year since 2009 when he was 26 to 27 years of age. Against the rival Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, he proved it when he caught five passes for 97 yards, including a 43-yard reception.
That 43 yarder reception was a very intriguing catch, as the Steelers did a good job clearing out space for him to run into for the reception. They attacked all three levels of the Ravens’ defense, stretching out two specific defenders to create a galloping grab by the veteran tight end.
The Steelers came out with only two receivers, both of whom were aligned to the far right of under center signal-caller Charlie Batch. Behind Batch was running back Jonathan Dwyer, and to his left were two tight ends, one of which was Miller.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown was going to be running a corner route that would start with an inside release and finish outside the numbers. Teammate and slot receiver Mike Wallace was also going to be doing what he does best: running a post pattern vertically. The two receivers were vital against the Ravens’ single-high safety shell because they would be forcing deep safety Ed Reed to defend vertically while clearing out the rest of the defenders by dragging them along.
Underneath, there would be only one route, but it was an important one. It was a swing route run by Dwyer into the flats, and it would force the outside linebacker (circled) to account for him, consequently freezing the linebacker where he stood. With the deep defenders out of the picture and the underneath area accounted for, the middle of the field was going to be wide open for Miller.
At the snap, Miller released outside and worked vertically for roughly 10-yards before turning towards the middle of the field. Upon turning, he sneakily worked behind the linebackers — whose eyes were glued to the quarterback and/or running back — in coverage and caught a pass from Batch in between the middle and outside linebackers. He scampered the rest of the way, picking up several yards after contact as he followed the route of Antonio Brown outside the 30-yard line.
The big play was just another in Miller’s eight-year career, but it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise.
The old school tight end has stepped up for the Steelers, especially over the last two weeks when he’s combined for 11 receptions and multiple big plays. Miller has had a reception of at least 20 yards in six of the 12 games he’s played, including two games with catches of 30 or more yards. He’s already matched his 2011 total for +20 yard grabs.
He may be aging, but he’s still got it.