I believe it was last year during the preseason when Philadelphia came into Heinz Field and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense looked like this unstoppable machine as Ben Roethlisberger picked apart the Eagles’ secondary and the play-calling was creative and on the mark. It seemed Bruce Arians was finally getting this offense where everyone expected it to be and then it crashed back to Earth with a few exceptions here and there and now Arians is in Indy and yada, yada, yada…
This preseason there was no big outburst and no moment where we all were left wondering about just how great this offense could be under Todd Haley. Yes, there was a glimpse in the third game against Buffalo where Roethlisberger put together an impressive two-minute drive resulting in a touchdwon but the offense had basically sucked up to the point.
By keeping five running backs, four tight ends and just four wide receivers, it would appear the ‘ground and pound’ that many Yinzers long for is returning but I don’t quite think so.
One of the first players Todd Haley mentioned when he took the job was Heath Miller. Was there any guy more quiet in the preseason than Miller? He was dealing with an ankle sprain that he suffered the first day of camp, but I tend to think his silence in the offense was a precursor to bigger things for him and the tight end position.
Is Miller going to suddenly turn into Rob Gronkowski or Tony Gonzalez in his prime? No, he is not, but I do think you’ll see him used more effectively as a safety-valve in this offense than under Arians. That could mean more catches for the veteran tight end.
I also think that rookie and seventh-round draft pick David Paulson who made this team largely because of the upcoming suspension to Wes Saunders, will have some opportunities to catch the ball. The young man from Oregon is not going to wow anyone with his blocking but he can catch the ball and he runs straight ahead after the catch. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he gets a target or two during the first few games. He may also be used as an H-Back with just one fullback on the roster.
If the running game comes around at all, it sets up play-action which benefits wide receivers and especially tight ends who use that acton to get open. Miller is excellent at the block and release which allows him to simulate blocking before heading out on a pass route. The NFL is certainly a pass-first league today, but you cannot match the impact of good play-action in catching the defense off guard.
Haley is not the second-coming of Charlie Weis or Mike Holmgren, but he knows how to run an effective offense and take advantage of what the defense is giving. This offense may not be ready just yet for this ‘expected explosion’ of big plays and points but the talent and plans are there so stay tuned.