Our GateKeeper Emeritus Brizer is on record as warning the Eagles to keep a tight leash on the Steelers' veteran tight end Heath Miller this coming Sunday…
So much media talk is spent on the Steelers' wideouts Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace…but Heath Miller is Big Ben's not-so-secret weapon.
Heath Miller, TE, 6-5, 256, 8th year out of Virginia, was a first-round draft pick of the Steelers in 2005…
The Eagles know what they have to do on defense to force Big Ben's hand…integrity of gap coverage, check…disciplined open-field tackling, check…maintain close coverage on wide receivers when Ben does his roll-out right moving pocket, check…but the guy that Roethlisberger likes to go to when he needs to extend a drive is his veteran tight end.
The featured involvement of Heath Miller in the Steelers' game plan is a direct result of Todd Haley (former HC of Kansas City and former OC for Cardinals) coming in to Pittsburgh as their new offensive coordinator. Despite Haley's much publicized verbal volleys with Big Ben, the two have seemingly come to an agreement on the most efficient use of their tight end as an offensive weapon.
They used to call Heath Miller "underrated"… this is no longer the case. He will cause huge matchup challenges for the Eagles linebackers and safeties on Sunday.
“As long as we block stout, (passing) shouldn’t be an issue,” said Steelers left tackle Max Starks. “We have a great (corps) of receivers that can all get open and make plays. Plus, you add Heath Miller in the middle, and you don’t really have enough guys who can cover. I think it’s going to be a great matchup for us. Outside of Asomugha and Cromartie-Rodgers, their nickel is a rookie. You have some guys who are inexperienced in there. Hopefully, we can get into some sets and be successful in those things.”
Thus far, it’s worked out OK for the Eagles, who rank seventh in the NFL in pass defense, allowing 206.8 yards per game – though that number was somewhat skewed by a 118-yard passing game by Cleveland rookie Brandon Weeden in Week 1, his first career start.
Since then, the Eagles have given up 232 yards and a touchdown to Baltimore’s Joe Flacco, 222 and two scores to Arizona’s Kevin Kolb, and 309 yards and two touchdowns to the Giants’ Eli Manning.
The Steelers hope quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is second in the NFL with a 109.2 passer rating, can be the difference, identifying whom Boykin is matched up against and taking advantage of it.
“I know he’s a rookie. In these early games – that’s the only thing you can go by – and the film from the preseason, you can see his athletic ability,” said Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery of Boykin. “He’s getting some valuable experience on the inside right now. He has some great guys to learn from.”
The Steelers feel he still has a lot of learning to do.
“ He’s all right,” said Brown. “I should have kept my mouth shut about calling him the 'candy bar' in the Eagles' secondary. But he’s given up a lot of plays. Whoever gets that guy definitely has to take advantage.”
Wow. If that's not some kind of motivation for Boykin and the Eagles secondary to play lights out coverage on Sunday, I'll need to send the Birds a new bulletin board for their locker room. But in reality, this may be a calculated diversionary move by the Steelers to take the defensive focus off their real ace-in-the-hole threat—Heath Miller.
Philadelphia (3-1) has been outscored by 17 points through four games, but it has a pair of one-point wins and a two-point victory to thank for its winning record. It's trailed at the two-minute warning of the fourth quarter in all three wins.
The Steelers, meanwhile, have blown fourth-quarter leads in both of their defeats, watching a 10-point cushion disappear in a 34-31 overtime loss in Oakland on Sept. 23 before a bye week.
"There's no panic in here," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "It's still a marathon, but we need to get a win."
Having two former Defensive Players of the Year back should help, but to safety Ryan Clark, their additions mean little if the defense can't produce.
"I think it's more pressure, honestly," Clark said. "No more excuses."
The Steelers have surrendered an average of 31.3 points in losing three straight on the road dating to their playoff loss in Denver, but being home should help. Pittsburgh has allowed just 9.3 points per game in winning nine of its last 10 at Heinz Field.
It'll see an Eagles offense that's fifth in the league in total yards (417.8 per game) but 30th in scoring (16.5). A staggering 12 turnovers were the biggest culprit in the unit's struggles through three weeks, but Philadelphia didn't give it away once in last Sunday night's 19-17 win over the Giants.
"I'd like to keep winning. I'd like to keep winning by more than one or two points. I'd like that, but I like winning," coach Andy Reid said Monday. "I honestly don't feel like we've come close to playing our best football yet."
Michael Vick was much better against the Giants after throwing six interceptions and fumbling five times in his opening three games. He also made a difference with his legs, scrambling six times for a season-high 49 yards.
"I just played smarter," said Vick, who's been knocked down 44 times – 18 more than the next-most for a quarterback. "The thing is in this game you can't force opportunities against the defense, you have to let it come."
"I'll be honest, missing the preseason did affect me to a certain extent, but now I'm getting into my groove and seeing the field a little better. The guys around me are helping me and that's important."
Vick suffered a knee contusion late in last weekend's game but is expected to be at full strength Sunday.
There's also a chance left tackle King Dunlap (hamstring) could return, though perhaps not at his original position. He took some snaps at right guard in practice Wednesday with Danny Watkins out, a sign the Eagles are pleased with Demetress Bell's job filling in for Dunlap.
Philadelphia's defense allows 6.16 yards per pass attempt – only San Francisco and Houston are better – but the Steelers should provide a formidable threat. Roethlisberger is the NFL's second highest-rated passer (109.2) and has thrown eight touchdowns to one interception.
He's been sacked nine times, though that seems like nothing compared to the last time he faced the Eagles. Philadelphia brought him down eight times in that 15-6 win Sept. 21, 2008.
"He's a big guy. You can't tackle him low. You've got to tackle him high," said defensive end Trent Cole, who had one of those sacks. "That's going to be one of our keys to getting him down."
The Steelers are 16-19 in the regular season when Roethlisberger is sacked four times or more, and 65-17 when he goes down three times or less.
Being able to hand the ball to Mendenhall could be big for Roethlisberger. The Steelers are averaging a league-low 2.6 yards per carry without the former first-round pick, who has missed the first three games after tearing his ACL in January.
Roethlisberger is 13-1 in home games against NFC opponents.