Having assessed the worth of Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings in the past fortnight, it's time to turn my attention to the final member of the feted WR trio of free agency, Mike Wallace. Anyone even slightly familiar with Wallace's game would describe him as a deep-threat speedster, a role in which he was most successful under Bruce Arians in the two years of 2010-12.
Given the mini-drama surrounding Wallace last offseason, there was little doubt that his performance this year would be under heavy scrutiny from a variety of teams around the league. Rumours abounded a year ago of Wallace's apparent contract demands, which seemed a tad unrealistic at the time, let alone now. If he could maintain his 2010-12 levels of performance, he'd likely have been paid as a Top 5 receiver in the league – unfortunately for Wallace and the Steelers, 2012 wasn't such a happy time for the wideout. He declined in all major statistical categories (touchdowns aside), while his on-field performance started to incorporate drops and miscommunications which weren't evident in his prior body of work.
Furthermore, questions were raised about his off-field temperment and judgement, with the tense contractual standoff between Wallace and the Steelers – resulting in a holdout last year – augmented by recent reports of lockerroom dissension from fellow receiver Antonio Brown – the guy with the juicy new contract. Add all of the above together and you get a picture of why I don't think the Colts should pursue Mike Wallace – also add in the fact that we have a similarly speedy threat with unlimited potential in T.Y Hilton – though it's only fair to illustrate strengths and weaknesses nonetheless.
The first play I've chosen to illustrate Wallace's main strength is coincidentally against the Colts – though i'd forgive you for having banished the memory, given it comes from the dark days of last year. It's a 2nd and 5 from the PIT 19 with roughly 5:15 on the clock in the 1st Quarter.
I've chosen to circle three important defenders on the play – David Caldwell; Antoine Bethea and Pat Angerer. Caldwell and Bethea are occupying the back end, while Angerer is playing the Mike in the 4-3, and guess which defensive playcall the Colts happened to opt for? That's right, the dreaded Cover 2. Wallace is tasked with streaking across the formation to expose the limitations of the Cover 2 – the opposite receiver is running an out route behind the sitting zone corner, which puts the strong safety (Bethea) in a hell of a bind.
After taking the snap, Roethlisberger is afforded good pass protection and can consequently look downfield. Wallace's sheer rapidity allows him to accelerate more quickly than his counterparts, and this will only have helped Roethlisberger identify the coverage. Bethea's relatively shallow depth at the top of the frame is the game breaker on the play – though the aforementioned out route requires his attention. With Wallace's pace, it's an impossible choice.
I've circled Bethea here to pinpoint his predicament – he can either opt to guard the shallow route and bank on his teammates covering deep, or he can cover the deep zone and deal with any catch as it occurs. To Bethea's credit, he frequently opts for the latter, conscious of the fact that a safety is the last line of defense. Unfortunately on this play, he opts to move closer to the line.
Big Ben correctly identifies what's in front of him, and he's able to heave up a bomb downfield. The advantage with Wallace is the impossibility of an overthrow, and looking to a potential Luck-Wallace partnership, that'd be a positive. The deep attack of last year was entertaining to watch, though too many balls fell incomplete or ended up as turnovers due to the lack of rapport between the WR's feet and the QB's arm.
With Wallace, you can see his skill in being able to track the deep ball and make tough catches over the shoulder or wherever required. He's not a particularly elite receiver in terms of going up to get the ball in traffic, but his ability to burn defenders and haul the catch in makes him a rare commodity in the NFL.
In this instance, he reels the catch in for an 81 yard touchdown.
The second play I've chosen also highlights Wallace's ability to separate against zone packages, though in this case he somehow manages to beat an outside corner deep in Cover 3. The game in question is against the Titans on Thursday Night Football, and Wallace is matched up on Jason McCourty. It's a 1st and 10 from the PIT 18 with 5:37 on the clock on the 1st Quarter.
As mentioned, the Titans defense opts for a Cover 3 playcall, which means that Jason McCourty at corner absolutely has to bail deep. Michael Griffin will cover centerfield while the corner opposite McCourty will cover the final exposed deep zone of the field.
Upon taking the snap, Roethlisberger's attention is immediately focused towards Wallace. He receives adequate protection and has room to step into the throw. – all he needs to do is wait for separation, and with Wallace's aggressive stance, it shouldn't be too long.
By the 35 yard line, Wallace has caught up with McCourty. Roethlisberger sees this as a green light and heaves it downfield, with props to his clean pocket.
Again, Wallace's ability to track the deep ball and make a clean reception comes to the fore.
McCourty seems fairly lackadaisical throughout the play, and whether that's a symptom of playing for the 2012 Titans or an error in my observation, who knows. Either way, he allows Wallace every comfort.
Over the shoulder catches aren't easy – maintaining control of your body at full speed while making one makes it infinitely more difficult.
He makes it look incredibly easy, and the poor effort of McCourty on the play is encapsulated in a poor attempt to strip the ball which results in a broken tackle. Wallace takes it to the house for another 80 yarder.
The final positive i've chosen to highlight comes from the Steelers matchup with the Giants from last season. While it again focuses on Wallace's speed, all I can say is that speed features so heavily in his game as to be ubiquitous. It's a 3rd and 5 from the PIT 49 with 14:14 on the clock in the 4th Quarter.
Wallace is tasked with a simple slant, with the Giants in single high man coverage.
As it's only a 3 step drop, the ball is released almost instantly. Wallace comes straight inside and makes a fairly straightforward reception.
The single high safety opts to try and tackle Wallace, and is given a clean pair of heels for his trouble. The Giants in their man coverage defense don't show the awareness required in flying to the football – they're all too concentrated on their own receivers to look round and break on the ball. As a result, Wallace is afforded a major opportunity for YAC, and he doesn't turn it down.
If he can turn the corner before the opposing DB, it's another long touchdown reception.
He's able to do so by the finest of margins, and the Steelers score in a crucially important game.
I wouldn't be able to show any Mike Wallace body of work without at least referencing his issues with drops in the 2012 season. I've chosen a particularly bad example from the Steelers game against the Bengals, in which Wallace had a total of 4 bad drops. For someone who was seen to have reliable hands when catching the football, Wallace's year raised many questions which could cost him in terms of his contract.
The play in question is a 3rd and 9 from the CIN 24 early in the 1st Quarter – I've highlighted Wallace as the red route. Initially the receivers appear to be attacking the centre of the field, though Roethlisberger's tendency to extend the play ensures that the receivers break out and aim for the sideline. The Bengals are in man coverage on the outside.
A second after taking the snap, Roethlisberger is dawdling in the pocket. There simply isn't any separation on the outside, and with 2 high safeties, he'd be taking a huge risk. Where other quarterbacks might seek to dump it off or scramble for a minimal gain, Roethlisberger backpedals and waits for the play to break down.
Another second elapses and the pocket eventually turns into a confused muddle. Roethlisberger is certain to be hit at this point, so he releases the football…
…and fortunately for him, the time spent in the pocket allows Wallace the freedom to get open. His break to the sidelines takes into account the location of the first down marker, and given it's 3rd and 9, that's the sort of on-field awareness a marquee receiver must have.
Unfortunately, Wallace's ability to track the deep ball and routinely haul in long touchdowns doesn't seem to transcend the field to the shorter throws. This drop is absolutely inexplicable, and there isn't any excuse.
He seems to treat the reception as a foregone conclusion and as a result doesn't give the ball the attention that it warrants whilst in the air.
As a result, he drops an easy reception on 3rd and 9, and the Steelers have to settle for 3. Concerning.
As I've chosen with the other two receivers in question, finally comes the question of run blocking. Given the Steelers' lack of success in the running department over the past couple of years, I was fairly hard pressed to find a highlight where Wallace contributed a key block. A 34 yard gain against the Redskins – again from the 2012 season – is the closest thing I could find. It's a 1st and 10 from the PIT 28 with 5:47 on the clock in the 1st Quarter.
On the play in question, Wallace is out wide at the top of the formation with the Steelers in a 2WR 1TE 2RB formation. The RB – Jonathon Dwyer – is tasked with running the ball in what appears to be a counter play. The Redskins' unfortunate decision to blitz Madieu Williams plays perfectly into the hands of the Steelers.
I've circled Williams to illustrate the failure of the blitz – he's come from a deep strong safety position to find himself in the backfield on contain, and pointlessly so. Wallace runs the beginning of a slant route before the course of the play becomes clear.
When it becomes clear that the play is in fact a run, Wallace pauses for a second, stutter-steps and then begins to block his opposite number, Josh Wilson.
I'm a bit confused as to what the stutter-step was supposed to achieve – decisive force in blocking would have surely been more effective and precluded any contact by Wilson onto Dwyer.
In any case, Wallace manages to do just enough to create an adequate lane for Dwyer. When facing down the body of Josh Wilson and the superimposed logo head of Fox Sports, that's a scary proposition.
As aforementioned, Wilson does manage to contact Dwyer with an attempted arm tackle. With a more determined and powerful corner, Wallace's block might not have been enough.
Fortunately in this case it was, and the Steelers rip off a 34 yard gain to set the tone.
Mike Wallace is a big-play WR who's capable of taking it to the house on any play – whether it's a deep bomb, a short screen or an intermediate route. He's obscene when it comes to foot speed, and he'd be a laudable threat for Andrew Luck down the field were he to come to Indianapolis.
That said, he's a huge question mark in terms of locker room presence, reliability and also compatibility, considering the Colts new schematic shift under Pep Hamilton. Which brings me to another issue – previous tenuous speculation linked the Colts with Wallace due to the Arians factor, which no longer exists in these here parts. Hopefully that'll be enough to kill off the association, because at the end of the day Mike Wallace is a receiver that we don't need.
I'm all on the T.Y. Hilton bandwagon, and considering their talents and relative cost, that's where I shall stay. We need to be looking at more complete receivers who have the fundamentals mastered, hence my support for the acquisition of Greg Jennings. Wallace will get a deal north of $10m a year – likely from the Dolphins – and he could well succeed. The point here is that the percentages don't favour the acquisition, and as such I'd be loath to endorse such a move.
Verdict: Do Not Pursue