It took a while, but Mike Wallace is back and the Pittsburgh Steelers offense returns to being much more explosive.
According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, Wallace joined Pittsburgh camp on Tuesday:
Mike Wallace has officially reported to the Steelers. With the team now— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) August 28, 2012
This is huge for the Steelers, because Wallace is one of the NFL's fastest players and best receivers at making plays downfield.
He's one of, if not the best target in the AFC North. Considering it's a division run by defense, Wallace provides an advantage for Pittsburgh. His return allows for a more open playbook and will certainly limit the aggression from any defense as well.
With that, let's take a look at why Wallace's presence is so vital to Pittsburgh's offense and how the man presents such a deep threat.
Uncanny Ability to Stretch the Field
This is Wallace's forte, plain and simple.
For one, his acceleration and get-off at the snap is what creates this ability. Interestingly enough, there's no reason to consistently press coverage the guy. If so, then he'll just beat the corner from the start and leave the safety on an island over the top.
Depending on the coverage, Wallace could choose between pressing down the sidelines against Cover 1 or 3 or split the Cover 2 safeties down the middle. In short, it's a win-win situation for the Steelers because Wallace simply can't be totally isolated in single coverage.
And if the defense goes with a Cover 4, Wallace then can drag underneath and get targeted from Ben Roethlisberger while still running in stride. That's the key element regardless of where Wallace makes a play, because his speed allows such impressive yards after the catch.
As we saw in the susceptible offensive line from 2011, quicker developing plays such as this hot-read have to also be in the mix.
In other words, the sooner Big Ben can fire the rock to Wallace the better. Let the man's track speed takeover and so he can accumulate yards by himself.
Allows For Reduced Pass Protection Duration
The threat of Wallace going downfield significantly takes pressure of the Steelers' offensive line.
After allowing 47 sacks last season (including postseason), Pittsburgh's line hasn't offered much protection this preseason with 12 sacks and 13 total quarterback hits allowed.
Facing a gauntlet this fall which include the Denver Broncos, entire NFC East (loaded with pass-rushers) and the Kansas City Chiefs outside the rough AFC North, Wallace's contributions are more important heading into 2012.
His quickness from the snap and top gear moves downfield fast enough to limit Big Ben holding onto the ball in the pocket. A simple three-step drop for Roethlisberger could be a fade, post, streak or quick slant (video below) to Wallace anywhere on the field.
This in turn, only forces the line to pass protect for no more than two seconds at a time. It won't matter how stellar an opponent's pass rush may be, because applying pressure in less than two seconds is nearly impossible.
The end result, however, comes in the form of defenses adjusting accordingly which allows for a more balanced approach.
Backs a Defense Out of the Box
Presenting faster developing plays as previously mentioned and a reliable receiving corps, Wallace out wide does force a defense to acknowledge Pittsburgh's passing game much more.
Antonio Brown is fully capable of consistently defeating single coverage and Heath Miller is one of the NFL's most complete tight ends. So, don't expect a constant barrage of blitzes with Wallace present because a defense can't afford to be left vulnerable in such a manner.
Therefore, fewer defenders stacking the box to compensate for blanketing in coverage will give the Steelers the opportunity to run more effectively. Even if Pittsburgh's ball-carriers only manage to average three to four yards per carry, that's enough to set up play-action.
And even if a defense decides to double cover Wallace, Brown and Miller will see a one-on-one mismatch underneath. The play-action also forces the linebackers to briefly freeze and provides anyone going to the intermediate level that little extra separation.
As we see below, even Charlie Batch has time off play-action and the defense plays back with double coverage on Wallace. Still, to no avail Pittsburgh gets six points.
Considering that Wallace has also averaged 19 yards per receptions for his career, any defense not respecting his playmaking skill set deserves to get burnt downfield.
One player in no way makes a team, though, it is quite fascinating to see how one player can have such a big impact. Wallace is that for Pittsburgh and the Steelers' game-planning just got a lot less stressful.
Follow John Rozum on Twitter.