I must admit that it has been downright fun to watch Tight End Heath Miller enjoy a mid-career Renaissance of sorts this season. Through Pittsburgh’s first seven games, Miller has already caught 35 passes for 336 Yards and 6 TD’s, and appears all but set to eclipse his career high in each statistical category. As a blocker and pass-catcher, Heath has arguably been the most underrated threat in Pittsburgh’s Offense over the course of his eight year career, and it is finally nice to see him being utilized properly in the passing game and recognized for his efforts. With his productivity and skill-set in mind, I believe that Miller could prove to be a valuable “X-Factor” in the passing game tomorrow afternoon against the Giants.
Going to the Middle & “Dink & Dunk” and the Advantages
I believe that Miller will be a focal point early tomorrow in a heavy Pittsburgh “Dink & Dunk” attack because of how much potential havoc New York’s pass-rush (21.0 Sacks, T-7th) can ultimately wreak on an opposing Offensive Line. Although they started the year a bit slow, the Giants’ famous pass-rushers have stepped up their games’ recently and recorded 13.0 Sacks over their last three games and harassed Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III, and Alex Smith into poor decisions and costly Turnovers. Although Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka have been quiet through their first eight games (1.0 Sack apiece), Jason Pierre-Paul (5.5), Osi Umenyiora (3.0), and big Linval Joseph (4.0) have been very effective this season. If those guys were not enough to strike fear into the Steelers’ Offensive Line, Rocky Bernard and recently healthy Chris Canty (1.0 Sack apiece) can chip in with pressure and stout play off the bench as well.
If the New York’s pass-rushers do indeed put massive amounts of heat on Big Ben tomorrow, Pittsburgh’s signal-caller will need an athletic, sure-handed, solid route-running, big-bodied safety-valve at his disposal to make his way through the Secondary, get open underneath and give his Quarterback chances to unload the ball early in inclement conditions. This is a situation in which Miller could be a dangerous matchup for the Giants because of the multitude of weapons Big Ben has at his disposal in the passing game, and the injuries and poor-play which have struck the middle of New York’s Back Seven as of late.
How the Steelers & Heath Can Match Up Well
While the Giants’ 16 Interceptions rank them tied for 1st in the League, their Secondary has not been stellar or played “shut-down” against the pass this season. New York ranks 26th in Passing Yards Allowed per Game (274), 30th in Passing Yards per Attempt (8.3), and recently allowed three pass-catchers to go over the century mark last weekend against the Cowboys. As nice as the Turnovers have been for the Giants’ Defense, teams like Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, and Dallas have moved the ball effectively through the air against them, and Pittsburgh will look to do the same tomorrow afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Giants’ Secondary, the Steelers’ corps of pass catchers are not only talented and fast, but quite deep personnel-wise as well. New York’s Defense will likely not be able to divert a significantly large amount of attention to Miller tomorrow in the passing game because they must contend with “The Young Money Crew” inside and outside the hashes. Cornerbacks Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara, and Rookie Jayron Hosley will all have their hands full with “Young Money” members Mike Wallace (36 Catches for 459 Yards and 6 TD’s), Antonio Brown (40 Catches for 480 Yards and 1 TD), and Emmanuel Sanders (22 Catches for 282 Yards), and the middle of the field should be open to Heath as he faces a Safety trio and Linebacker corps struggling to get/stay healthy. Containing the Steelers’ top three Wide Receivers is a difficult enough task for any Defense, especially when the unit must account for Miller as a pass-catching option. But what I believe will make the Giants’ task of stopping Pittsburgh’s passing game (especially in the middle of the field) extremely trying has to do with the team’s recent injuries at the Linebacker and Safety positions.
Not only will Linebackers Chase Blackburn and the athletic Jacquian Williams be sidelined tomorrow, Keith Rivers is also listed as doubtful and unlikely to play too. The task of stopping Miller with a Linebacker man-coverage situations will fall to the talented Michael Boley and 2nd year man Mark Herzlich. The injuries however are just not limited to the Linebacker corps for the Giants. Although Safeties Kenny Phillips (knee) and Antrel Rolle (concussion) should play, both are nursing injuries and surprising (5 INT’s) 3nd year man Stevie Brown will likely see a significant amount of snaps if the Steelers spread the field and go into pass formations.
Hobbled an undermanned at both Safety and Linebacker, Miller will have his chances to succeed, and I am sure that Big Ben will be looking his way in heavy formations when drives enter New York’s Red Zone. Whether or not Miller can take advantage of New York’s injuries at Safety and Linebacker will be an interesting matchup to watch. Yet the chances exist for Heath to contribute a great deal tomorrow, and he has proved to be quite the reliable and effective passing game option for Big Ben to target when he has been in need over the years.
Make no mistake Steelers fans, tomorrow’s game will not be a proverbial “picnic” by any means. The Steelers have had their issues on the road this season (1-3 record), and the Giants are a solid 6-2 team and the defending Super Bowl champions. I even believe that New York has a better chance to win tomorrow because their pass-catchers match-up extremely well with Pittsburgh’s suspect Secondary. Despite my doubts, I do have faith in the Steelers’ Offense to keep the game close and possibly pull out this all-important victory.
With the running game basically decimated by injuries at the Running Back position, Pittsburgh’s Offense will need to bring their “A Games'” when it comes to effectively throwing the football tomorrow. The “Dink & Dunk” if executed properly should take an immense amount of pressure off of Big Ben, take time off the clock, and allow his athletic play-makers to have chances to shine, and his sure-handed target Heath matchups to win.
Regardless of the outcome, I feel like the game will come down to whichever team’s Back Seven blink first. I just hope that it is New York’s as opposed to Pittsburgh’s.