When people think of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their "blue collar" mentality, there are several names of players that come to mind. Players like Jack Ham, Mel Blount and Hines Ward -- just to name a few -- come to mind. Players who show up every day, work their tail off and make play after play on the field without any extra fanfare.
There is another player you could add to that list, and he just happens to be the 'X-Factor' for the Steelers' offense as they prepare for the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card game Saturday night. The player? Heath Miller.
Miller is more than Ben Roethlisberger's safety valve on many passing plays, he is a player who can block as well as run routes, and his ability to impact both the run game and passing game are invaluable to the Steelers' prolific offense.
When the Bengals put the final touches on their defensive game plan, it likely will be focused around Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Often times players like Miller are overlooked, since people don't feel the veteran tight end can take over the game, but such a statement couldn't be further from the truth.
Miller has had modest numbers this year, but has made his share of plays when called upon, especially against the Bengals. Miller has 60 receptions on 81 targets for 535 yards and 2 touchdowns. Miller's yards per reception are a slender 5.9 yards, but this is what can make him have an impact on the game.
The Steelers love to push the ball downfield to Brown, Markus Wheaton and Bryant, which often leaves the middle of the field open for business. This is where Miller does his best work, and has done so against the Bengals this season. In the two previous meetings, Miller has 20 receptions (10 in each game), 165 yards receiving with an average yards per reception just North of 8 yards. Although he hasn't hit pay dirt against the AFC North rivals, Miller played a large part in the Week 14 game.
In the Steelers' third offensive series in Week 14, there was a string of three straight plays where Roethlisberger hit Miller underneath to move the Steelers into Cincinnati territory. It isn't he first, or the last, time Roethlisberger has targeted Miller a lot in a series, and the team would be wise to have Miller heavily influencing the game plan, both in the run game and the passing game.
Miller is the ultimate "blue collar" player, willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. The Steelers will need him in both the running game and passing game -- which is why he is the Steelers' 'X-Factor' vs. the Bengals.