I remember when the Steelers drafted Heath Miller late in the first round back in 2005 and thought with my young uneducated football mind, “Why are the Steelers drafting a tight end in the first round?” Just the year before, I had the same questions about some no name quarterback out of the MAC who had set a lot of records, but wasn’t Phillip Rivers or Eli Manning. For both of these draft day Steelers’ wins, 2012 may be a season to bookmark for their careers.
If Heath continues on his current pace, he will nab 80 catches, 688 yards and 21 touchdowns. Now I fully expect the touchdown ratio to drop but Heath is having a nice start under Todd Haley’s new system. For Ben, the numbers are even more staggering. As of now, Ben is projected for 4,8021 yards and 42 touchdowns, which are MVP caliber numbers.
Keeping with the quarterback, Ben’s success on third down has been key. Ben is finding ways to keep the team on the field and making long conversions look easy with his now trademarked ability to extend a play. Ben looks very comfortable in the no huddle/up tempo pace and much more convincing on play action passes. He has done a much better job throwing the short passes and letting his track runners at running back or wide out move the ball down the field. It doesn’t hurt that Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace make up one of the best receiving duos in the NFL either. In any regards, Ben may finally force the national media to take notice of him if this pace continues.
As seen in the past two games, Haley has utilized Miller in the redzone, an area where Heath has always been the most dangerous. As evidenced in both touchdowns versus the Raiders, Heath has fantastic technique when engaging the defender. He has the ability to run block but on passing plays, separate and use his natural size advantage to be a perfect target for Ben. Furthermore, Heath has soft hands and can play the ball over the shoulder, turning a linebacker mismatch into a fade touchdown like against the Jets. I’ve wondered why when the Steelers struggled so much in the redzone last season Heath was not utilized more, and now it seems as if Haley has realized that he has an additional weapon to use that is scarily effective.
For both of these players, Haley’s system plays to their natural strengths. Ben is a gunslinger who will always look for the big play once he realizes the defense is broken. Wearing out the defense and forcing these mismatches earlier prevents Ben’s sacks and for Wallace and Brown to burn secondaries. Miller is a talented player who can block just as effectively as he can catch and thus he can be a matchup advantage best used in the redzone. While running the ball will be a focal point for Haley, with Ben and Heath producing at this rate, it’s going to be hard not to feed them the ball.