What Makes Mike Wallace Unique, and Why Steelers Must Keep Him
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace goes by the moniker "60 minutes," but he has spent exactly zero minutes in training camp because of a contract dispute.
Despite his absence, Wallace is one of the team's best receivers and could be argued as one of the league's best overall. He's not by any means the best route-runner on the team (Mike Tomlin once aptly called him a "one-trick pony," according to The Sports Exchange, h/t The Morning Call) nor is he the most physical, but he is the fastest by a mile.
Unlike route running, speed can't be taught, which is why Mike Wallace is a unique asset to the offense. He has the ability to blow the lid off coverages, which not many others can do, and this ability is significant.
Here's why: offensive coordinators design their offenses with horizontal and vertical "stretches" (routes) that stretch the defense the width and length of the field. The reason they do this is to cover as much space on the field as possible while also creating spacing for the pass-catchers to run their routes and create clear passing lanes for the quarterback.
However, some offenses use receivers vertically and exploit defenses with them while others run the receivers vertically but without the intention of exploiting the defense vertically, instead using them as "clear-outs" to create space for underneath and intermediate route runners.
Mike Wallace doesn't just clear out space for his receivers underneath, though, he's also a very dangerous vertical threat as we've found out over his three-year career. He averaged nearly 19 yards per catch en route to shredding defenses one play at a time. Last season, he had a 40-plus-yard reception in seven of his 16 games and 20-plus-yard reception in 12-of-16 games.
The Indianapolis Colts were one of his first victims when they ran into him last season in Week 3. Wallace scored an 81-yard touchdown when he freely crossed the field and ran away from the Colts Tampa-2 coverage.
He lined up at the far left of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was joined by "12" personnel (one back, two tight ends).
Prior to the snap, Roethlisberger signaled to Wallace, who subsequently motioned to the inside and behind receiver Hines Ward to form a stacked "Twin" set. His new alignment meant that there was little-to-no chance that he was going to get jammed and rerouted by a defensive back while trying to develop his route, also meaning he could run at full speed.
The Colts pre-snap look of two deep safeties indicates that they were prepared to play an even coverage shell, meaning Cover 2/Tampa 2 or Cover 4. It ended up being Tampa 2, and the defenders were intent on playing a soft squat Tampa 2, meaning the cornerbacks were playing roughly five to seven yards off the line of scrimmage with their eyes on the quarterback.
The coverage is designed with four underneath defenders and three deep ones that consist of two safeties and the middle linebacker, who split the responsibilities into thirds. This proves to be a detriment to the Colts defense, however, because the safeties are too wide to get back to Wallace in the end and the linebacker is too slow.
At the yell of "hike!"by the quarterback Roethlisberger, Wallace was off to the races and bent his route to the inside of the field with each step to what would eventually amount to what some call an "over" route.
What makes Wallace such a good deep threat is not only that he can outrun angles but because of how he draws coverage to him and opens things up for others as previously noted.
Despite Roethlisberger throwing to him for the touchdown, Wallace also creates an option in the middle of the field for Roethlisberger by drawing the attention of Colts MIKE linebacker, Pat Angerer. If Wallace wasn't able to get open deep, there was a good chance that Roethlisberger could have anticipated the Dig route ran by Hines Ward and completed the pass for a large gain.
Ultimately, Wallace ran full speed toward the end zone untouched because of the pre-snap motion and caught the ball for six points.
It was a significant play that put the Steelers ahead early on and once again showed why Wallace can sometimes be so valuable to the Steelers. Although the wide receiver position is replaceable and the Steelers can do without Wallace, it would be important to keep him because of his deep threat ability.
Should the Steelers pay Mike Wallace?
He offers something that the rest of the receivers on the roster really don't at the moment. He can blow the lid off the top of coverages at any time as well as improve the rest of the offense by creating additional space for the receivers to work with.
These are the reasons he eventually receives a contract extension from the organization. The Steelers have long been an organization that preaches continuity and rewards players for their strong performances, which Wallace has had plenty of.
But for now, it's down to Wallace to get in training camp with his teammates and perform for 60 minutes if he wants to get paid.
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