Mired in a frustrating offensive slump, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin seems to think massive personnel shifts will be the way to spark a rejuvenation before Sunday's clash against the Baltimore Ravens.
Of those changes, which include Jonathan Dwyer as the new starting running back, the most shocking involves a possible benching of wide receiver Mike Wallace. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette, Wallace is now listed as a co-starter with Emmanuel Sanders, and it will depend on "situations" as to which one starts on Sunday.
Here is what Tomlin said of Wallace when speaking about the receiver's one-catch, nine-yard performance from Week 12, per Bouchette:
Mike was frustrated, and rightfully so. He's not producing in the manner in which he'd like to or which we'd like him to. It's the function of a lot of things. He's just going to be committed to continuing to work, and we're committed to that as well.
The motivations of this move will be debated in the coming days. The "co-starter" moniker may just be a motivational ploy to get Wallace to improve his play. Or it could even be a look that Tomlin wants to employ this week against the Ravens after watching game film.
Nevertheless, you cannot help but wonder if this is the beginning of the end for Wallace in Pittsburgh.
Remember, this is a franchise and player that haven't exactly been on good terms in 2012. Wallace held out because of contract issues until late August, and his offer of five years and $42.5 million was given to fellow starter Antonio Brown instead.
Perhaps the relationship has been more fractured than we ever knew.
More than anything, though, it's starting to look like Wallace just isn't a good fit for offensive coordinator Todd Haley's scheme.
Under former coordinator Bruce Arians, Ben Roethlisberger and Wallace became one of the best big-play tandems in the league. Under Haley, Wallace is on pace to have just 832 receiving yards this season, as the emphasis on the deep pass has almost vanished.
In fact, Roethlisberger described the offense using the dreaded "d-and-d" phrase earlier this season—and I'm not talking Dunkin' Donuts.
“Haley’s offense is not a big-play offense,” Roethlisberger said (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Joe Starkey). “It’s kind of a dink-and-dunk offense.”
Later in the interview, when asked why the Steelers don't use more quick-strike plays, Roethlisberger replied, “There’s a guy calling the plays. That’s on him.”
While the Steelers quarterback later told USA Today's Jarrett Bell that the comment "wasn't meant in a negative way," Roethlisberger was correct about the team's lack of downfield aggressiveness.
Employing a more conservative look that uses checkdowns and underneath routes more heavily, Haley's offense is far less aggressive than the one run by Arians. And nowhere is that fact more evident than the yards-per-catch statistics of Steelers receivers, particularly Wallace.
After averaging 18.7 yards per reception in his first three years in the league, Wallace is down to a mere 12.2 in 2012. For reference, the New England Patriots' Wes Welker averages 12 yards per reception this season.
Considering that no Steelers receiver is averaging above 15 yards per reception thus far, I'm going to go out on a limb and say the problem is more systematic than with Wallace.
That still doesn't change Tomlin's unhappiness with his receiver's performance. If the Pittsburgh head coach truly feels that Wallace and Sanders are equals at this point, there's little to no chance the former returns next season.
The Steelers aren't in the business of handing out massive contracts—especially to (possible) third receivers.
While it's possible that the motivational ploy theory is true and Wallace will have a massive stretch run that spurs Pittsburgh to the playoffs, it seems unlikely. Tomlin has always been a straightforward coach and doesn't seem to be changing his ways
It's far more likely that Tomlin simply views Sanders as an equal fit and wants to see if he can handle the burden of being a full-time starter. If he can, the countdown to Wallace's end in the Steel City has already begun.