When the Miami Dolphins signed free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace to a five-year, $60 million contract with $30 million guaranteed in March, NFL observers and Dolphins fans everywhere assumed he would bring the playmaking ability the Dolphins have been missing in previous seasons.
But the addition of Wallace hasn’t panned out how the Dolphins would have ideally wanted it to. Through seven games, Wallace has just 30 receptions for 398 yards and one touchdown, while averaging 13.3 yards per catch. Not exactly the numbers that are expected out of the former Pro Bowl receiver.
As the Dolphins face the Cincinnati Bengals, who currently lead the AFC North, on Thursday night, they will need Wallace to have a breakout game. The Dolphins' playoff chances are diminishing every week. After a 3-0 start to begin the season, they have dropped their last four games and currently sit in the third spot in the AFC East.
The Bengals are a familiar foe for Wallace, who played against them eight times during his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In those games, Wallace had 36 receptions, 463 yards and three touchdowns with an average of 13 yards per reception.
There is no clear-cut reason for Wallace’s early struggles. As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out Thursday morning, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has completed 65 percent of his passes to his other receivers while completing just 48 percent of his pass attempts to Wallace.
Ryan Tannehill: Completed 48.4% of attempts to Mike Wallace this season; completed 65.2% of attempts to all other Dolphins— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 31, 2013
There are two logical explanations for the early issues: Either Tannehill and Wallace just haven’t started clicking yet or Wallace isn’t the All-Pro-caliber receiver he was thought to be. After the Dolphins' Week 1 victory, Wallace voiced displeasure with the amount of targets he had in the game.
Whatever the continued issue is, the Dolphins need to figure it out soon before they are eliminated from the postseason hunt.
Wallace is currently listed as the Dolphins’ No. 1 receiver on the depth chart, which could bode well for him. During the 2013 season, the Bengals are allowing opposing No. 1 receivers to bring in 53.7 yards per game, which ranks 17th in the NFL, according to footballoutsiders.com.
The Bengals have been matched up with a few top-level receivers this season. That list includes Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson, Josh Gordon and Calvin Johnson. Those receivers have all fared well in their games against Cincinnati. The following chart breaks down each of those receiver’s statistics in those respective games.
|Receptions||Yards||Yards per Catch||Touchdowns|
As you can see, the Bengals have struggled to contain the best receivers they have played against this season.
In order to get things started early, Tannehill needs to target Wallace frequently. They don’t need to go for big plays; they need to establish something early by sending Wallace on short or intermediate routes to open up the field.
If Wallace can make an impact, it will open up the stingy Bengals defense. They haven’t much of a rushing attack this season, which can partially be attributed to the struggles through the air.
Wallace doesn’t need to put up superstar numbers Thursday night; he just needs to mirror the production he had on a consistent basis in Pittsburgh.
If he is able to bring in six receptions, eclipse the 100-yard mark and add a touchdown, the Dolphins should be able to steal a victory from the Bengals in Thursday night's game.