Given how confusing and uncertain the Bears’ offense has been this season, there’s a bit of irony in the fact it has always been clear when they do or do not trust Anthony Miller.
Like, for instance, the first three games of the season, when Miller was targeted five times, catching three balls for 17 yards. Or in the three weeks leading up to their Week 11 loss in Los Angeles, when Miller had four catches on six targets. He’ll disappear as quickly as he reappears a month later, and working to remain consistent throughout a full season has proved difficult through the first two years of Miller’s career.
“He cares. He cares a lot,” Mitch Trubisky said. “He works his tail off in practice. Just that communication from him – that he wants the ball, and you know that he has the ability to get open within this offense. He's done a lot from the learning standpoint about where he belongs within each spot, within each concept, and even when he's not getting the ball, where he's blocking, who he's blocking.”
Then there are stretches, like over the last month, when he looks like he could be a focal point of the offense. He’s been targeted 37 times over the last four games, with 18 receptions, 313 yards and a touchdown (finally!). Miller’s not the first wide receiver to insist he’s a volume guy and definitely won’t be the last, but the offense is inarguably more dynamic when Miller’s involved – which, so far, has meant finding a drive or two where he gets four or five targets.
“I definitely feel different,” Miller said after setting a career-high in receptions (9) and yards (140) during the Bears’ Thanksgiving win over Detroit. “I feel like I’m getting more opportunities, I feel like I’m getting more involved. When I’m more involved I feel like I can make a lot of plays for this team. Coaches have just been giving me the opportunities and I’ve been taking advantage.”
The Bears’ coaches will certainly take 9 receptions for 140 yards, but Miller's talent as a pass catcher has never been what frustrated Matt Nagy, Mark Helfrich and company. It was Miller’s habit for mental mistakes – like cutting a route off two yards short on an interception in Los Angeles – and undisciplined play, like the taunting penalty on a touchdown celebration in London. To Miller’s credit, Nagy is quick to give the wide receiver credit for never making the same mistake twice; a finer attention to executing details also happened to be what the head coach liked most about Miller’s touchdown against Dallas.
“What I liked about Anthony was he caught the ball and he set up his blocks and got vertical,” Nagy said. “It was aggressive. He had a mindset that no one's stopping him getting to that goal line and you felt it. And you felt the energy after he scored. Just again another example of guys detailing leverage, detailing what they're supposed to do, executing and making us look like good coaches.”
This season, Miller’s seemed to have a weird, probably-coincidental habit of playing well for three game stretches, and then disappearing for three game stretches. It’s actually kind of uncanny. If you’re superstitious you may want to look away, because right now he’s one (quiet) game removed from his best three-game stretch of the season. Give us some reassurance, Mitch!
“He's earned that trust and he's been busting his tail to get on the same page with me,” the quarterback said on Wednesday. “And he's done a tremendous job for this offense, especially stepping up when some of the other guys being out.”