The Pittsburgh Steelers can't afford to play the 2012 season without Mike Wallace.
And although he is expected to suit come time for Week 1, Wallace has yet to do so. In an article according to ESPN.com:
The wide receiver, who wants a long-term contract and hasn't signed his tender offer from the Steelers, is expected to report to the team before the regular season begins, people who have spoken to him told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter on Tuesday.
So what we have here is a glass half full/half empty situation.
Fortunately, we're only halfway through August as well and still roughly three weeks before opening kickoff. In short, it's reasonable to feel optimistic that Wallace puts the pads on for Game 1 against the Denver Broncos.
Not to mention his presence is imperative for Pittsburgh to make the postseason.
As one of the fastest and most explosive and exciting players around, Wallace is a distinct advantage for the Steelers. His potential absence for the beginning of the 2012 season, though, would be costly.
Best Receiver Equals to More Firepower
Mike Wallace is obviously the best target on Pittsburgh but also the best in the AFC North. Take it a step further and he's easily a top 15 receiver in the league, if not better.
His acceleration and top speed alone allows the Pittsburgh offense to open the playbook. Wallace draws double coverage, can fly past single coverage and keep a defense on its heels.
If you take this talent away from the Steelers offense, however, and Pittsburgh becomes astronomically more vulnerable. Defenses won't fear the passing game nearly as much which leads to a stacked box and more press coverage.
Rookie running back Chris Rainey has the potential to develop as an every down ball-carrier and is solid out of the backfield, but without a deep threat to stretch a defense he'll get isolated. Even with arguably the best selection of Round 1 in the draft in guard David DeCastro, pass protection can only hold up so long.
Ben Roethlisberger still has his elusiveness, but it won't do him any good unless he can launch the rock downfield to Wallace.
The Adversity of Another Gauntlet
It always seems like the Pittsburgh Steelers face the NFL's roughest schedule each season. Then again, that comes with the territory of playing in the AFC North as well.
The NFC East is a drastically improved division on both sides of the ball and with Wallace, Pittsburgh can certainly match any fast pace. Each team presents an explosive offense—some more than others—and the Steelers need to be fully loaded heading in.
The AFC West also presents improvements and most notably Peyton Manning in Denver. Between these eight games Pittsburgh can win five or six with Wallace. Without him and that number drops to two or three because of each team's pass rush (namely the NFC East) and promising ground game (AFC West).
Pittsburgh's defense remains stellar but the offense still has to score, especially against playoff contending teams. And Wallace gives the Steelers the best chance to win in a pass-happy league.
Improvements From Elsewhere in the AFC
Aside from numerous tough games the Steelers also have to deal with postseason contenders not on the schedule.
The Buffalo Bills are right now the most threatening team to Pittsburgh in a playoff race. In the AFC you have certainties like New England, Houston and at least one team from the West. Then include Cincinnati and Baltimore and this conference will come down to the wire.
How would the Steelers regular season fare WITHOUT Wallace?
Buffalo has one of the best-looking new front sevens in the game and before injuries in 2011, its offense was rolling. Not to mention the Bills don't face nearly as difficult of a schedule as Pittsburgh, so the Steelers are already at a disadvantage.
One man doesn't make a team but one man can make a huge impact.
Wallace has the talent alone to be the difference in at least four games. Stretching the field itself opens up everything underneath and takes much pressure off the running game. In turn, the play-action pass becomes that much more dangerous.
Through three seasons he averages 18.7 yards per catch, so Wallace factors in emphatically well on game day. And when you combine all the elements of a tough schedule, new teams on the upswing and him being the best offensive weapon, Wallace must be present for Pittsburgh to qualify for January.
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