December 3, 2004
It’s Miller’s Time
by Ric Sweeney
After catching 91 passes and six touchdowns his first two years with the team, seemingly developing in the process an easy, comfortable chemistry with David Carr, tight end Billy Miller has spent most of this season being pursued by Leonard Nimoy and the crew from In Search Of…
But against the Titans on Sunday, Miller caught four passes against Tennessee, proving once again to be a sure-handed, clutch contributor, converting a fourth down reception into a first and catching two passes on Houston’s two second half scoring drives, including one that ended with, yep – Miller on the receiving end of a Carr strike in the end zone.
Which made at least one Texan fan – that Texan fan being me – wonder where he’s been all year?
Miller’s disappearance is made even more glaring when one takes time to do a quick glance at how other young, developing quarterbacks around the league are benefiting from having an effective tight end on the field.
Dallas Clark and Marcus Pollard have combined to catch 38 passes and 11 TDs from Corkey Manning. Drew Brees’ leading receiver is Antonio Gates with 69 catches and 11 TDs. He’s tied for most receptions in football. Daniel Graham is tied for the Patriots’ lead with 5 TD catches from Tom Brady and is third in receptions (24). Michael Vick’s go-to-guy is not the expensive Peerless Price, but the unheralded Algee Crumpler, who leads Atlanta with 43 catches and has caught 6 of Vick’s 11 TDs. And in Denver, Jeb Putzier and Dwayne Carswell have 41 receptions, combined, to place second on the team.
Frankly few of the teams are blazing what we’d call new paths – the effectiveness of the tight end, especially on an up-and-coming signal caller is actually a well-worn formula that’s often spelled success.
Perhaps the best example occurred 240 miles north.
When QB Troy Aikman spent the first two years of his career stuck in a Pacer-Piston game, it was Jay Novacheck who proved to be his savior. Though Michael Irvin, a future Hall of Fame receiver and pimp, had been in place a year before Aikman’s arrival, was busy running routes and rounding up hookers for his teammates, the top pick of the 1989 draft never had time to find him. Even when Aikman did get handed decent protection, teams pounced on Irvin; he was the Cowboys’ lone playmaker and everyone knew it.
But rather than run crying into the arms of his man-lover, Aikman started to play a game of catch underneath with Novacheck. The two soon developed a potent chemistry. When, in two years, Dallas was winning back-to-back Super Bowls and causing everyone in America to hurl simultaneously, Aikman-to-Novacheck was every bit as vital to their success as Irvin, Emmitt Smith or cocaine. Novacheck provided Aikman not just a safety valve, but an effective one. Sure-handed, tough, Novacheck was a God-send on third down. He forced linebackers into coverage, lessening the pressure on Aikman and brought a safety up, freeing Irvin from constant double teams.
And it seemed like the Texans were headed in that direction with Miller. Again, look at his numbers from 2002 and 2003. And he scored the first touchdown in franchise history. He was more than an afterthought these past two years.
But Palmer and his coaches have favored WR Derrick Armstrong over Miller this season, often lining up four receivers and no tight end. Armstrong’s a nice player, but has he done anything to justify Miller being buried on the sidelines? Meanwhile, the line, minus a piece of the puzzle, continues to have trouble fending off oncoming opponents. So not only is Miller not around to help bail Carr out when primary targets are covered, he’s not even around to help throw another body at the onslaught.
Hopefully, after Sunday’s performance/kick to the memory bank, Carr and the Texans have learned that with Miller in the thick of things, the offense can live long and prosper.
Ric Sweeney’s been locked inside your Heart-Shaped box for a week.
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