Big Day Alert: TE Heath Miller Against the Raiders

The Oakland Raiders travel east to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in a meeting with early-season playoff implications. Mark Schofield previews the matchup, specifically highlighting how tight end Heath Miller can be an asset in the passing game.

The upstart Raiders sit in second place in the AFC West with a 4-3 record, and if the playoffs started today they would qualify as the 5th seed. The Steelers stand at 4-4, three games behind the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North and currently stand as the 7th seed – outside the playoff picture. Pittsburgh has been hampered by injuries on the offensive side of the football quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned to the lineup last week against Cincinnati, but running back Le’Veon Bell was lost for the season with a knee injury.

But also of note in last week’s loss was the big game from tight end Heath Miller, who tallied 10 receptions for 105 yards. All signs point to the veteran tight end having another big game this weekend, as Oakland has been burned by tight ends many times in the 2015 season. Here are two curl concepts that have worked against the Raiders – and that the Steelers and Miller are very familiar with.

Curl from Inside Trips WR

One way teams have attacked Oakland with tight ends is by putting the TE in a trips formation as a wide receiver, and using curl route concepts. On this play, the Chicago Bears face a 3rd and 10 and empty the backfield and put quarterback Jay Cutler in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field. TE Martellus Bennett, who hauled in 11 passes for 83 yards and one touchdown in this game, lines up as the inside receiver in the trips formation on the left. The Raiders have five defensive backs on the field, employing Cover 4.

The offense runs an all curls look to the trips side, giving Chicago this look against the Coverage:NFLPreview9MillerPlay1Still1

Bennett’s curl route takes him right to the outside shoulder of linebacker Curtis Lofton (#50) before the TE breaks back toward Cutler and makes himself available for his quarterback:

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Here is a similar concept from the Steelers from their game against the St. Louis Rams. Pittsburgh faces 1st and Goal on the Rams’ 10-yard line, and lines up with Roethlisberger in the shotgun and an empty backfield using 11 personnel. Miller is the inside receiver in a TE trips to the right, with Bell in the middle of the alignment. St. Louis has their base 4-3 defense in the game, showing Tampa 2 (or Red 2) before the snap. The Steelers run both Miller and Bell on curl routes:NFLPreview9MillerPlay2Still1

The Rams throw a slight wrinkle here, as they drop defensive tackle Nick Fairley (#98) into an underneath zone. The big DT gets under Miller’s curl route, but watch as the tight end works to create enough of a throwing window for Roethlisberger to find him:

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The hard work results in an 8-yard gain for Miller, giving the Steelers 2nd and goal at the two.

Bunch Curl Concept

Building off the all curl concept is a similar scheme out of a bunch formation. Take this example from Oakland’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. Quarterback Joe Flacco is under center with 12 offensive personnel, with three receivers in a bunch formation on the right. Tight end Crockett Gillmore (#80) is the middle receiver in the bunch. The Raiders have their base 4-3 defense in for this snap, showing Cover 3 in the secondary:NFLPreview3RavensPlay3Still1

The Ravens send Gilmore on a curl over the middle of the field, while wide receiver Marlon Brown (#14), the outside receiver in the bunch formation, runs a deeper curl. Fellow tight end Maxx Williams (#88) runs a route to the flat:NFLPreview3RavensPlay3Still2

Gilmore finds space against the underneath coverage, and Flacco hits his tight end for a decent gain. Again, a tight end is able to find space and separation in the vicinity of Lofton:

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On this play from Week 8, the Steelers face 1st and 10 on the Cincinnati 31-yard line, and line up with Roethlisberger in the shotgun and 11 personnel on the field. The offense uses a bunch formation on the right, with Miller as the inside receiver, Markus Wheaton (#11) as  the middle receiver and Martavis Bryant (#10) on the outside. The Bengals have a 4-2-5 sub package in the game showing Cover 3 Buzz, with nickel back Leon Hall (#29) down in the box over the bunch alignment:NFLPreview9MillerPlay4Still1

Pittsburgh runs a similar route pattern, with Miller running a curl over the middle and Wheaton running a deeper vertical curl route:NFLPreview9MillerPlay4Still2

As the play develops the two linebackers widen into their zones, and Miller settles down right in the middle of the field between the LBs. Safety Reggie Nelson (#20), the buzz defender, recognizes the route from the TE and breaks on it, but he cannot prevent the completion:

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Nor can Nelson make the tackle. Miller shrugs off the diving attempt and gains additional yardage after the catch, earning the Steelers a fresh set of downs.

In a big contest for both teams, the club that pulls out the victory might be the team that can best keep the chains moving and convert third downs. Given the relationship between Roethlisberger and Miller – and these schemes that have worked against Oakland already this season – look for the TE to have a solid afternoon for the Steelers.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks Marcus Mariota vs Jameis Winston” href=””>down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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