By BOB LABRIOLA
If he were the type to care about such things, Heath Miller would be grinding his molars in frustration. Finally, the tight end has become more than an afterthought in the Steelers passing attack, but Miller has been sidelined for those two games because of a high ankle sprain.
Maybe it'll be the same, maybe the tight end will still be more than a decoy when Miller is healthy enough to return to the lineup, because Coach Mike Tomlin explained this change as a result of what opposing defenses have been doing to the Steelers as opposed to a sudden revelation that Matt Spaeth is a Tony Gonzalez-in-waiting.
In games against Indianapolis and San Diego, Spaeth, the second-year tight end who was drafted more for his blocking than his route-running, had 12 catches for 108 yards. In the other 22 games of his young NFL career, Spaeth caught eight passes for 52 yards.
"It is a function of the defenses that we have seen over the past couple of weeks," said Tomlin. "We went through a spell there where we were getting behind people; Nate Washington was catching balls behind people. Really, I think it has been people are making a conscious effort to keep things in front of them.
"Part of smart football at times is taking what the defense is giving you. Not only have we stepped up the production from the tight end position, but Mewelde Moore has caught quite a few balls here the past couple of weeks. I really just think that it is a function of what defenses are willing to give us, and us being smart enough to take it."
During the four-game span that included the Jaguars, Bengals, Giants and Redskins, Nate Washington caught passes of 48, 50, 65 and 50 yards, and it usually doesn't take even that long for word to get around the league. But then again, Coach Tony Dungy's Colts long have been known as a team that employs the Tampa-2, and the Chargers came to Pittsburgh with the No. 32 pass defense, which made it only logical for them to try to limit big plays as much as possible.
Whether the Bengals have the inclination or the personnel to try to duplicate the Colts' and Chargers' strategy is unknown.
"I have learned to expect the unexpected," said Tomlin. "We will take it if it is presented to us; if not, we will do what we can. You have no control over what your opponent does schematically defensively. We have all of the control over how we respond to it. We have had the appropriate response to those two defenses over the past couple of weeks. What Cincinnati is going to do against us is up in the air. We will see on Thursday night."