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Can Anthony Miller find the previous magic he had with Mitch Trubisky?

When playing primarily in the slot in 2020, Miller had a connection with Trubisky in Chicago which could be utilized in Pittsburgh.

NFL: MAY 25 Pittsburgh Steelers OTA Offseason Workouts Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are chugging on through the 2022 offseason. Looking at a number of players and positions as the roster has fluctuated, sometimes it’s players the Steelers have on their roster taking a step that can really add to the coming season. With Mitch Trubisky joining the Steelers in 2022 as a free agent, he joined former teammate Anthony Miller who spent last season on the Steelers practice squad. Can these two players find the magic they had previously? This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

After being drafted in the second round of the 2018 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, Anthony Miller had a seven touchdown rookie season where he had 423 receiving yards on 33 receptions. In 2019, Miller saw an increase in receptions and yardage to 52 and 656 respectively, but dropped down to two touchdowns that year. In three seasons in Chicago, Miller appeared in 47 games with 17 starts with 134 receptions for 1,564 yards and 11 touchdowns.

It should also be noted that after being traded to the Houston Texans, Anthony Miller appeared in two games in 2021 where he had five receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown. After being released by the Texans and signed to the Steelers practice squad, Miller was elevated for one game where he had one catch for 2 yards.

For the purpose of this breakdown, Geoffrey wants to focus on the 2020 season in Chicago when Anthony Miller was used primarily in the slot, a position he stated he would like to play in Pittsburgh. In 16 games in 2020, Miller only had 485 receiving yards on 49 receptions and two touchdowns. After having his yards per reception of over 12 his first two seasons, Miller only had 9.9 yards per reception in 2020.

Although there was a decrease in production with Anthony Miller in his last year in Chicago, what did it look like with him playing in the slot? This is the question that Geoffrey is ready to answer.

The Film Line:

The 2020 season wasn’t a great year for Anthony Miller or Mitchell Trubisky, but early in the season the two were making plays, even as other parts of the Bears offense struggled.

2020 Bears vs. Lions

Anthony Miller is second from the top, just outside the tight end.

I love this play. After Miller falls down, he starts working outside to buy space in the middle of the field. Then right before his quarterback moves to look at him, he takes off into the space in the middle of the field. This shows two of Anthony Miller’s best traits from his time playing with Trubisky, his understanding of space, and his “Wi-Fi” with Trubisky where he almost always knew where to be and what to be doing to help his quarterback when things broke down.

Also, look at the score and time left, and look at Trubisky’s body language during the play. Trubisky is bouncing all over, he’s not smoothly going through options, he comes across almost panicked. That’s usually when things unravel for Trubisky. But not this game, and this play helped.

2020 Bears vs. Lions

Anthony Miller is second from the top, just outside the tight end.

The next play they run a timing route to Miller, and this ball is thrown too far and Miller is able to pull it in anyway, check out this shot of him getting first touch on the ball.

He’s able to make this catch, and it’s another first down. The Bears would score on this drive, and then the Bears defense forced a turnover to give them a chance to win the game.

2020 Bears vs. Lions

Anthony Miller is second from the bottom.

Look at Trubisky in this clip— he’s calm, he’s smooth, he’s making plays. Trubisky isn’t Ben Roethlisberger, who Mike Tomlin always lauded as being the same level of calm in any situation. Trubisky can get on the roller coaster, and Anthony Miller was one of the guys that made plays and helped him get settled down and back into rhythm when that happened.

2020 Bears vs. Falcons

Anthony Miller is second from the top, he’s running the jet sweep.

Anthony Miller isn’t the most dangerous player running a jet sweep, but he can do it and he’s not bad at all. That is important because on the Steelers offense under Matt Canada you need to be able to do a lot of things, having experience on jet sweeps is a benefit.

2020 Bears vs. Falcons, 4th quarter, 2:00.

Anthony Miller is second from the top.

This was the game winning touchdown. Trubisky was replaced mid-game by Nick Foles and Anthony Miller still made the play to win the game. Two game winning touchdowns in three games is not shabby.

The Bears offense would drop off as the season went on, and Anthony Miller’s production and efficiency dropped substantially with Nick Foles at quarterback. But later in the season when Mitchel Trubisky became the starter again, they picked up where they left off early in the season.

2020 Bears vs. Lions

Anthony Miller is second from the top.

That’s the type of catch we haven’t seen much of these past 18 seasons. But man, I remember Kordel Stewart throwing fastballs at receiver's knees and Hines Ward making it look effortless to make plays on them. Check out the replay angle of that catch.

That’s as smooth as you’ll see someone catch a ball below their knee and dodge a defender.

2020 Bears vs. Lions

Anthony Miller is third from the top.

Miller also has a knack for getting the last few yards you need. This isn’t easy yards at all, but Miller picks them up and the Bears would score a touchdown right before halftime.

The last thing I want to cover is Anthony Miller’s last play as a Chicago Bear.

This was the first drive of the second half in the Bears playoff game against the Saints, the Bears were down 7-3 at this point and they would lose 21-6. That offseason the Bears got rid of both Trubisky and Anthony Miller, trading Miller to the Houston Texans. Since their split, neither played much at all, and now they have been reunited on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Point:

Anthony Miller isn’t a great talent, and he isn’t going to be a 1,000 yard receiver on any team. But if he can re-kindle the chemistry he had with Mitchel Trubisky, he could be a valuable depth receiver. And if George Pickens gets off to a slow start, Miller could push for slot snaps due to his experience and success playing with Trubisky.

One big factor when it comes to Anthony Miller is if he can make the Steelers 53-man roster. There are a number of wide receivers fighting to land with the team for 2022. But even if the Steelers do what many expect and keep their drafted rookies, there is always a possibility that one of them may not be ready right away to start the season. If so, by having a player like Anthony Miller on the practice squad again to start in 2022 there could be the possibility of him being elevated early in the season until the Steelers are confident in their young wide receivers who they did not want to expose to waivers.

Exactly how Anthony Miller’s roster status plays out will be determined in training camp and the preseason. Due to his time and experience with Mitch Trubisky, Miller could have the inside track, more so than the other receivers on the Steelers, in order to prove himself throughout August.