The Jets know they can win at Heinz Field in tonight's AFC Championship game because they took a 22-17 decision over the Steelers here on Dec. 19. A significant portion of the commentary about that game has focused on the fact safety Troy Polamalu missed that game with an Achilles injury but will be in the lineup and could make a profound impact on the Jets' offense.
But the Steelers are getting back an injured player on the opposite side of the ball who could have just as much to say about the outcome: tight end Heath Miller (pictured in Super Bowl win over Cardinals). Jets fans surely recall Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's fourth-down pass into the end zone for backup tight end Matt Spaeth that was broken up by Marquice Cole. What if that's Miller running the same route?
Roethlisberger himself said this week that Miller's return dramatically improves the Steelers' offense. "It's huge," Roethlisberger said. "Heath Miller is the best tight end in the game. I don't want to take anything away from D.J. [third-stringer David Johnson] or Matt Spaeth. They played well last time.
"But Heath Miller is a special player, and even when he's not getting the ball, he opens up things for the guys on the outside. He's a great safety valve for me."
As everyone knows, Roethlisberger is especially dangerous when he's scrambling, and Miller makes a very convenient target in those situations. "We've been together a long time," Miller said. "I think we see things on the field in the same way. This is our sixth year together. We've seen a lot of defenses together, so, that's beneficial."
The Jets did a good job last week in New England of containing the Patriots' tight ends, but Miller will be the best they've faced in the playoffs since the Colts' Dallas Clark was sidelined by an injury in the wild-card game. "They have a lot of versatile players capable of doing a lot of different things," Miller said of the Jets' defense. "I know coach [Rex] Ryan's going to have a lot of different packages and personnel groups and a lot of different defenses to throw at you. Once he finds something that's working, he'll stick with it."
Remember, in last year's AFC title game at Indy, it was Clark who hurt the Jets in the middle of the field. We'll see if Ryan has a better answer this time.