Steelers' Wallace torching opponents
Friday, November 26, 2010
By Bill Brink, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The game has slowed down for one of the NFL's fastest receivers.
Mike Wallace, capable of speeding by most defensive backs, has stepped into the opening Santonio Holmes' departure created and filled it well. His 23 yards per catch are second in the NFL, and the only player above him, San Diego's Richard Grossman has caught only one pass (for 25 yards).
Wallace's 33 receptions tie him with Hines Ward for the team lead, but he has scored eight touchdowns, four more than Ward, and his 759 receiving yards already surpassed his total from last season.
"I'm just seeing things a lot more clearly now," he said. "Last year, I was just flying around trying to be in the right spot at the right time."
Last week against the Oakland Raiders, Wallace caught three passes, converting them into 116 yards and a touchdown. He has 405 yards and four touchdowns in his past four games and became the first Steelers receiver to catch touchdown passes in three consecutive games in the past five years. The touchdown against the Raiders -- a 52-yarder -- came on a short pass, a departure from his usual long receptions.
If he has 100 yards receiving Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, he will break the team record for consecutive 100-yard games. He currently is tied with Ward at three.
"I don't really pay attention to that," he said. "I just play football. Those things occur when you're doing well. If those things come, then that's what it is."
Wallace's improvement resulted partly from increased opportunity. Holmes' departure opened a spot across the field from Ward, and Wallace grabbed it. With that experience, Wallace said, the game has slowed down for him.
"Now I'm learning the timing of everything, so I have time to do certain things with my routes," he said. "I'm learning the whole offense now. It makes things a lot easier."
He has not learned enough to shelve coach Mike Tomlin's moniker for him: "one-trick pony," Tomlin calls him, referring to his deep routes. Wallace likes it, though.
"I think it's just, he always wants to keep me on my toes and doesn't want me to get satisfied," Wallace said. "I want him to be on me. I want coach to be stubborn like that."
Wallace credited Ward with helping him tune his skills and uncover new abilities such as perfecting his route-running as well as helping with life in general.
"It's never been about one thing," Wallace said. "Not just with football, just about everything. About your business, about everything. I love having him around."
As much as improved route-running can help Wallace and the offense, his speed creates problems for both those covering him and the rest of the defense. Wallace keeps defenses from positioning too many defenders near the line of scrimmage to stop the run lest he face single coverage.
"We have to have an awareness of him at all times, especially with how well he's playing and his ability to stretch the field," Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "Our corners are going to have to do a great job of matching up on him, and, whether we have seven or eight guys in the box, we're going to have to make sure that we're able to control the line of scrimmage and control the run game."
By forcing the defense to keep an eye on him, Wallace creates holes for the rest of the offense.
"The more and more he continues to do that, he's going to open up things for me underneath," Ward said.
"It takes a little bit of the double coverage off some of the other guys."
Wallace said the next step in his progression is to emulate Ward in a different way -- by throwing crushing blocks against defenders.
"Trying to lay some people out like Ward. Trying to kill some folks," he said. "No fines, though."
He wants to improve his performance without the ball, from blocking to his routes when he is not the first or second read to competing every play, regardless of the call.
"You got to be in control," he said.
"You can't just run fast all the time."
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org
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