There's plenty of blame to go around the morning after a sloppy, 20-10 Steelers loss to the Saints, but none of it should be on tight end Heath Miller, whose fourth quarter fumble (video) ended a likely scoring drive for Pittsburgh and led to the New Orleans touchdown that sealed the contest.
This play would've made the highlight reel even if Miller hadn't lost the ball. He accumulated over half of the reception's 25 yards after the catch, evading would-be tacklers and showing terrific balance and strength. Saints safety Malcom Jenkins simply got his shoulder right on the ball, prying it free. It was a great (and somewhat lucky) play by the defender, not an unforgivable gaffe by Miller, whose mechanics were sound the whole way; he held the ball high and tight, just like he's coached.
A Miller fumble is almost as rare as a Miller drop. He's bobbled the ball only four times on 261 career catches, losing two. You'll notice the rare display of emotion from Miller, too, as he smacks himself in the head following the play. So cut him some slack. Besides, there are more deserving targets for your rage.
Take quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, for instance. Even though the Saints were without their top two cornerbacks, Roethlisberger struggled against the opposing secondary. Although his final stat line was decent (60.7% completion, 7.0 ypa), he continuously underthrew wide open receivers and failed to find his hot routes when New Orleans brought their house blitzes - not to mention the interception he gift-wrapped to Leigh Torrence (video) on the team's last drive. I'm beginning to worry about Roethlisberger's arm strength, as the underthrowing of open receivers - particularly along the sidelines, where they're running hitches and outs - has become all too frequent. As for beating the blitz, part of that blame falls on the shoulders of...
...offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Who knows if Roethlisberger was restricted in calling audibles or not, but it sure seemed like Arians was opting for longer-developing plays downfield in obvious, obvious blitzing situations, rather than hitting an open man on a quick route and letting him convert with yards after the catch. Instead, Roethlisberger was hounded all night long, as the Saints defense notched three sacks against Pittsburgh.
But perhaps the greatest head-scratcher from Arians was his play-calling in the red zone. In the second quarter, Roethlisberger hit Antwaan Randle El for what appeared to be an 11-yard touchdown (video). However, the play was overturned following a challenge from Saints coach Sean Payton.
The touchdown appeared dubious in slow motion, sure, but I was shocked that Payton threw the red flag and risked losing a timeout in a tightly contested first half. After all, even if the ruling was overturned in his favor, the Steelers would get the ball on the one-inch line, with three - perhaps four! - attempts to slip into the end zone. What, exactly, was the upside for the Saints?
Well, we found out. You would think that Arians would simply call a quarterback sneak with an inch to go for the touchdown. Roethlisberger is built like a linebacker, and that's a very high-percentage play, even when the defense expects it. Instead, Arians got cute and gave the ball to Issac Redman, who was lined up as the fullback, for a one-yard loss. A Rashard Mendenhall run on 2nd down got the Steelers back to the 1-yard line, but after another run went nowhere, Pittsburgh was forced to send out their field goal unit.
Assuming Arians doesn't go with a (likely successful) sneak on first down and the Steelers are facing 2nd-2 and 3rd-1, I don't know how he doesn't put the ball in Roethlisberger's hands at least once. Passing in a short-yardage situation like that is like semi-bluffing in poker: you can win in a number of ways. Maybe Roethlisberger finds an open man, maybe he tucks it and runs. You're paying the guy nearly $8 million to put the team on his back in precisely those situations.
So go ahead and blame Roethlisberger and Arians, but please - go easy on Miller.