PITTSBURGH – Athletes normally refrain from making political comments, but Ben Roethlisberger felt like he had a sure thing.
“Heath Miller should be president,” was how Roethlisberger greeted reporters for his weekly locker room talk.
“Forget Pro Bowl, he’s the president. I’m starting the campaign today. I’m getting him on. I’m going to be his campaign manager.”
Roethlisberger has always called Miller the best tight end in the game, and yesterday he reiterated it.
And why not? Miller is in a three-way tie for the NFL touchdown lead among tight ends with five. (Miller and Kyle Rudolph both have two-point conversions to edge ahead of Rob Gronkowski in total points.)
The season has yet to reach the halfway point, but Miller has more than doubled his touchdown output of two from last season. Is Roethlisberger looking for him more often this season?
“I’ve always looked for him,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s always been a comfort zone and blanket. He’s a great player, great teammate, maybe the best teammate I ever played with at any level. That’s a high compliment but he deserves it.”
Is it Roethlisberger? Or is it new offensive coordinator Todd Haley?
“I don’t think Ben’s mindset has changed,” said Miller. “Maybe it’s just a few more opportunities based on the scheme that we’re running.”
The statistics show a major increase in the Steelers’ use of Miller in the red zone this season.
Last season, when the Steelers scored touchdowns 47 percent of the time they visited the red zone (counting postseason), they sent 7 percent of the plays and 15 percent of the passes Miller’s way.
This season, with the Steelers scoring touchdowns 55 percent of the time they visit the red zone (20-yard line or closer), they’ve sent 20 percent of the plays and 38 percent of the passes Miller’s way.
In six games he’s already been thrown more red-zone passes (12) than he had in 17 games last season (11). He’s caught 7 passes for 5 touchdowns this season, compared to 6 passes for 2 touchdowns all of last season.
Those numbers don’t include the two-point conversion in Cincinnati, which came on the heels of much confusion.
The Steelers had put in their jumbo package to force the Bengals to play without cornerbacks, and the Steelers would slip Miller out for a pass.
But the Bengals left their corners on the field and the Steelers tried to call timeout. The officials wouldn’t oblige them, so Roethlisberger threw to Miller for the score anyway.
Miller’s most entertaining catch, according to Roethlisberger, was one of his 4-yard touchdown catches in Oakland.
“He caught that touchdown and he looked right into the Black Hole and he gave them a little flex,” Roethlisberger said. “That’s awesome. It’s fun and it gets you going, because a guy like that, who doesn’t show a lot of emotion, when he does it you know it’s time to go.”
Miller’s next touchdown will tie him with Elbie Nickel for most touchdown catches (37) by a tight end in team history.
Is Miller the best in the game?
“Absolutely,” Roethlisberger said. “All-around tight end? Yeah. People are going to argue with numbers, but all-around tight end? There’s no doubt about it.”