We resume our countdown of the Top 5 Dissapointments and Surprises of 2006 with our #3 Dissapointment: Heath Miller.
Miller erupted out of the gate in 2006 with his steller performance against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1. Sidenote: far too many of my solid memories from last season stem from our very first game against a Miami team that turned out to be less than mediocre last year.
I digress. Miller caught 3 balls for 101 yards in the opener, including the go-ahead 87-yard TD catch and run in the 4th quarter. Joey Porter would seal the deal with a 42-yard interception return in the waning minutes, but it was Miller's TD scamper that tipped the game in our favor. More importantly, the play call and athletic burst by Miller hinted that he was perhaps poised for a monster year in the black and gold.
Unfortunately, that would be the last we heard from Miller for quite some time. In fact, it wasn't until November that Miller would catch at least 5 balls in a game. I'm not sure we can rest all of the blame on Miller however. Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt just didn't seem to incorporate the talented TE from Virginia very predominantly into his gameplans for most of the season. Furthermore, Big Ben rarely looked to Miller during his progressions. If there's any position on the field were a QB can get away with trying to force a pass into tight coverage, it's to the TE. Unfortunately, Big Ben was reluctant to do so. Part of that I believe can be attributed to Big Ben's skittishness in the pocket last year. Instead of surveying all of the football field, Big Ben was too often scared of the pass rush, and subsequently kept his eyes on the perimeter of the football field where his WRs were positioned. The result was a lot of telegraphed and hurried passes to the perimeter, where the treat of a Pick-6 is the greatest.
Miller finished the season with decent numbers: 34 receptions for 393 yards, good for 11.6 YPC. He also found the end zone 5 times, but three of his four remaining TDs in 2006 came in goal-line situations. In other words, Miller was rarely used on seam-passes over the middle. One telling statistic is that Miller 3 catches of 20+ yards in 2006, and only two after his monster play in Week 1 against Miami. That's not going to cut. Compare that number with the Chiefs TE, Tony Gonzalez, who had 9 catches of 20+ yards; and Antonio Gates, who also caught 9 passes for more than 20 yards. This hurt the Steelers' running game, and it hurt our outside receiving threats, as defenses rarely had to account for the possibility of the big play over the middle to the TE.
Again, I'm not sure how much blame rests on the shoulders of Heath, and how much can be attributed to the coaching staff. Regardless, Heath Miller's 2006 campaign has to be considered a disappointment after posting bigger numbers in every statistical category during his rookie season in 2005.