At age 30, Heath Miller has become an overnight sensation. Not in Pittsburgh, of course, where he's been a fan favorite since his arrival in 2005, but everywhere else in the NFL. • Maybe it's because Todd Haley is from Upper St. Clair that he recognized Miller's talents from the outside and has helped put them to good use upon his arrival as the Steelers offensive coordinator.
Haley mentioned Miller at his first news conference as someone he looked forward to deploying in the passing game, and he's done just that. Miller has one fewer catch than Mike Wallace with 35, and has two more touchdown catches with six, which lead the Steelers and are one short of his career high.
"I just always thought he was a heck of a player," Haley said. "I said this week he might be one of the best football players I have ever been around, taking everything into account."
What might that be?
"If you have something unique that you need done and it requires some feel, you go right to him and he will get it done," Haley continued. "... In the run game, he is fantastic. He does a great job on his blocks. He is also a quarterback out there, helping direct receivers and other tight ends. He is just a great teammate and a really good football player."
Reminded about his immediate praise of Miller upon his hiring, Haley said, "I was just excited."
"This league is tough. Tight ends were a little scarce for a while there. To have a solid, two-way tight end, run and pass, that's a commodity in my mind."
Miller needs one more touchdown catch to become the franchise's career leader in that category, passing Elbie Nickel. Or does he?
Nickel caught 37 touchdown passes while playing between 1948 and 1957. But he played "end," which was what they called wide receivers then. There were no distinctions between wide receivers and tight ends. Later, they began listing some ends as split ends and flankers.
Pro Football Reference, the most complete collection of statistics in the business, lists Nickel as a right end and defensive end, which he also played early in his career. He caught 329 passes for 5,131 yards, an average of 15.6 yards per catch, which is a good average for a wide receiver today, never mind a tight end. In 1949, he averaged 24.3 yards per catch, which led the league.
The century mark
Ben Roethlisberger approaches another milestone when he plays Eli Manning's New York Giants today. His next touchdown pass will be No. 200.
That counts the postseason. He's thrown 179 in the regular season, including 14 this year, and 20 in the postseason. Terry Bradshaw, naturally, holds the Steelers records with 212 regular-season touchdowns and 242 total.
One big difference between the two: Interceptions. Bradshaw threw 210 in the regular season and 236 total, nearly a 1-1 ratio. Roethlisberger has 120 interceptions, including 17 in the postseason.
And with Roethlisberger vs. Manning, what must the San Diego Chargers and their fans be thinking? The Chargers could have had either quarterback and, while they did draft Manning, they then traded him to the Giants for Philip Rivers. They then completed the trifecta by later trading Drew Brees to New Orleans. If you're keeping score, that's five Super Bowls the other three quarterbacks have won vs. none by Rivers.
A writer's two-minute drill
• By calling Emmanuel Sanders to the league office in New York to explain his "injury," the NFL is trying to send a message to the rest of the league. Good luck with that. Sanders likely will tell NFL officials that he cramped up and that's that.
• There is one thing of concern with playing this game in MetLife Stadium today: Couldn't the police and other safety workers be better used elsewhere in New Jersey?
• Rashard Mendenhall's problem with injuries should make people appreciate Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris even more. Harris missed six games in his first 10 seasons, although a seventh game was the infamous 1976 AFC championship. Bettis missed two games in his first eight seasons. Mendenhall has missed 18 in nearly 41/2 seasons, not counting the postseason.
• Another trading deadline passed in the NFL, another year in which the Steelers have not made a trade during the season. The Steelers traded for return man Allen Rossum the week before Mike Tomlin's first season, 2007. They've not made one in modern times once the season began. They made their best inseason move when they picked up running back Earnest Jackson in mid-September 1986, but they did not have to trade for him. Coach Buddy Ryan for some reason waived him from the Eagles after Jackson rushed for more than 1,000 yards the season before. Jackson signed as a free agent with the Steelers and led them with 910 yards rushing even though he missed their first three games. He led the Steelers in rushing two of the three seasons he spent with them.
One year becomes two, then ...
It once looked as though Bill Cowher would return to coach in the NFL after he quit the Steelers following the 2006 season. He had to sit out 2007 because he had a signed contract through then. He figured to sit out that season and return for 2008, 2009 at the latest.
Back then, he was looking for the perfect spot that would include a good quarterback, good management team -- one he either could work with or one he brought with him -- and a good owner. That's a tough combination to find, and one he left in Pittsburgh. Usually, when those situations exist, the team is not normally looking for a new coach. Also, the various reports of Cowher targeting the Giants, Dolphins, Texans, etc. could have hurt him with those teams and with others even if he was not the one to start the rumors.
This is the sixth season that Cowher has not coached. He apparently loves what he's doing on CBS, makes decent money doing it and there's little pressure. He bought a condo in New York and has a musician girlfriend there. He's comfortable with what he's doing. Never say never (Dick Vermeil), and he's still young enough to come back, but the chances look much less so than they did in 2007.
First Published November 4, 2012 4:00 AM