View Full Version : Steelers’ WR Wallace Ready For Playoffs

01-07-2011, 01:26 PM
PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – Wide receiver Mike Wallace is having a career yea with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Wallace, a 2009 draft pick, spent last season behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes on the depth chart, but now he is a go-to receiver for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

In his two seasons in the NFL, Wallace has a total of 2,013 yards and 16 touchdowns on 99 receptions. Ten of those 16 touchdowns came this year.

He has been compared to Steelers’ Hall of Famers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, both players never had more than 11 touchdowns in a season.

Stallworth elected to the Hall of Fame in 2002 played for 14 seasons and finished with 8,723 yards and 63 touchdowns. Swann elected in 2001 played nine seasons and totaled 5,462 yards and 68 touchdowns.

When Wallace does line up for a play, Roethlisberger does know one thing that won’t happen if he throws the ball in Wallace’s direction; he won’t overthrow him.

Wallace considers himself the best wide receiver in the league, not by the numbers but by his speed. This season, he is averaging 21 yards a catch this season and has seven 100-plus yard games.

The only player with more yards per catch is the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson with 22.5 yards.

Whether the Steelers play the Colts, Chiefs or Ravens next week in the divisional playoffs, defending Wallace will be a priority.

Five of Wallace’s touchdowns this season are for 40 yards or longer. He and Roethlisberger already have connected eight times in two seasons on scoring pass plays of such length.

“We understand that this is the playoffs, and we expect things to happen pretty quickly there,” Wallace said. “I just want Ben to know I’ll be ready for him when he needs me. I’ll make the big plays, just like I did during the regular season. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t been in the playoffs before.”

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01-14-2011, 01:21 AM
Steelers Wallace quickly fills Holmes role

Second-year Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace(notes) paid his just respect to teammate Hines Ward(notes), then explained in sly fashion how he gets the job done.

“I was watching a show and they said how Hines is like the greatest blocking receiver in NFL history,” Wallace said when asked if he’d been working to be as good as the 13-year veteran. “I’m not there … but it’s not like my guy is making a lot of tackles.”

No, whoever gets to cover Wallace has far bigger problems than whether the wideout is going to hit him. As the Steelers get set to face the Baltimore Ravens in the second round of the playoffs on Saturday, Wallace is far more likely to make his defender or defenders look silly in the more damaging fashion:

By running past them.

In less than two full years, Wallace has gone from being a guy who barely could get onto the Senior Bowl roster to a guy torching NFL secondaries as the best deep threat in the game. When it comes to X’s and O’s, Wallace is a guy who changes them with his speed rather than enforcing them with his strength.

In the process, Wallace has allowed the Steelers to survive the loss of one of their former up-and-coming receiving stars, making Santonio Holmes(notes) an afterthought rather than a source of concern.

“Yeah, people were worried, I guess. To me, I didn’t want Santonio to go, but I was ready to step up and play. I knew I could play. I had confidence I could do it,” said Wallace, who through his first two seasons has averaged a stunning 20.3 yards per reception. That’s better than the likes of better-known, cross-state star receiver DeSean Jackson(notes), who has averaged 18.2 yards through his first three seasons. In fact, Jackson has only one more TD catch (17 total) in those three years than Wallace (16) has in two.

Wallace caught 39 passes as a rookie last season after being drafted in the third round. He caught 60 for 1,257 yards this season and really started to take off after the return of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes), who missed the first four games because of suspension.

In 12 games with Roethlisberger, Wallace had 51 catches for 1,046 yards and eight scores. Over his final nine games, Wallace topped the 100-yard mark six times and had at least 76 yards in two of the other three games.

“Their talents complement each other a lot, more than even how Holmes worked with Roethlisberger, and I wasn’t expecting that,” an NFC general manager said this week. “I thought losing Holmes was really going to hurt their offense because I didn’t think Wallace could do more than just run deep. Wallace is a much smarter player than I gave him credit for. Much smarter.”

The difference between Holmes and Wallace was that many executives and coaches saw Holmes as a more polished route runner who understands how to get open and how to run through a defense. In 2009, Holmes had his breakout season with 79 receptions for 1,248 yards. Most important, he averaged 6.5 yards after the catch, one of the best numbers in the NFL.

Wallace, by contrast, averaged 3.4 yards after the catch as a rookie in 2009. Despite his great speed, he often would have to look around ever so slightly after catching shorter throws, allowing defenders to get to him. That’s an intuitive skill that many receivers never pick up.

This year, however, Wallace nearly doubled his yards after the catch, averaging a Holmes-like 6.3 yards (Jackson was at a mind-boggling 7.7 yards this season after averaging 6.3 yards in 2009, his second season). Additionally, Wallace led the NFL in catches of 40 yards or longer with 10 and of 20 yards or longer with 26.

It all comes from following a very simple rule when it comes to playing with Roethlisberger.

“Don’t ever stop running,” said Wallace, who clocked a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine in 2009. That impressive time (he was the second fastest player at the combine that year) belied the fact that Wallace didn’t even get an invite to the Senior Bowl originally after playing at nearby Mississippi and growing up in New Orleans. Wallace was asked to play only after another receiver didn’t show up for the game.

“It was no matter, they figured out who I was after I got there,” Wallace said, part joking and part serious. “The whole thing in college was that we had three guys who pretty much got the same amount of catches, so none of us really starred like they’re looking for.”

Once Wallace got to Pittsburgh, he picked up on the nuances of playing in the Steelers’ offense relatively quickly by watching Ward and Holmes.

“I didn’t get a lot of time with the starters, but I was watching. … You just see Ben and how he’ll hold the ball, trying to make a play, try to break a tackle and buy more time. If you stop, you don’t get the ball. If you keep going, he’ll find you a lot of the time,” Wallace said.

That’s where Wallace truly matches up with Roethlisberger, who is exceptional at keeping his eyes looking downfield for the big connection until the final moments of a play.

“When Roethlisberger breaks the pocket, his eye level doesn’t change. Most quarterbacks drop their eyes. They’re looking for a defender, thinking about running or dumping it off, whatever. With him, it’s, ‘Deep, deep, OK, what am I settling for?’ ” the GM said. “That’s where Wallace really helps him.”

And that’s where Wallace could be crucial now. During the season, Baltimore did a good job of containing him, allowing him only seven receptions for 100 yards total in two games. However, one big catch is all the Steelers may need. In the 2008 AFC title game, Holmes keyed Pittsburgh’s 23-14 victory with a 65-yard touchdown reception that put the Steelers in control on their way to Super Bowl XLIII.

Wallace is aiming for the same.

“We know how it’s going to be, one play can be the whole game with these guys,” Wallace said. “Just let me have a couple of shots at it, that’s all.”

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