Mike Wallace was once considered a one trick pony – by his own coach even. But, this season he has become much more than that. He’s learning to run more complicated routes, read defenses and make adjustments. He’s not just about the deep ball but can now make a 10-15 yard catch and run for 30-40 more with his speed. However, guys like Peter King from SI.com feel that a ‘big game’ raining with deep balls and TD’s is just on the horizon.
Big games like this weekend against the Patriots are supposed to bring out the best of the best. King thinks this could be ‘the game’ for someone like Wallace. I agree. All the pieces are there – sub 4.4 receiver, a QB with a strong arm and the ability to extend plays and going up against a secondary that would have a hard time covering Chris Hampton running down the field. The problem is and the question remains, ‘Will Big Ben be able to accurately connect deep with his receivers?’
I stated in an article earlier in the week that Roethlisberger is struggling on connecting with guys like Wallace and Antonio Brown this season when it comes to the deeper throws – only 25% completion on throws 20-40 yards. When you watch the Steelers on offense and Ben drops back for pass, our fist thought always is, ‘Where’s Mike?’ He’s already off the screen and 15-20 yards down the field as the camera zooms into the pocket and Ben is finishing his five step drop. The camera pans with the arching rainbow of a throw as Ben tries to deliver a touch pass over the secondary and into the hands of a wide open Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown or Emanuel Sanders. Only the ball falls to the ground 5 or 10 yards too deep or a couple yards too short (if he is trying a back shoulder pass). So it’s not that Mike Wallace and AB are not ready as receivers. They are doing their job for the most part. They are open and creating distance between them and their cover man with each step they run down the field. Will Ben ever be ready?
Big Ben is working hard during practice to master these kinds of throws. That practice just needs to translate into results on game day. I think we certainly need to give the guy some slack. He’s never had this kind of talent in his receiver core… well… ever. Plaxico Burress was just one guy and could only dream of having the work ethic that Wallace and the rest of the receivers have on the Steelers offense. Santonio Holmes was fast, but not really a ‘deep’ guy. He was more of a catch a 10-15 yard pass and then go get more with his agility. Ben has two guys that run a sub-4.4 40. Sanders is very close to that speed as well. And, he still has Ward and Miller – his two sure hands receivers who aren’t afraid to take some smacks up the middle.
#7 is going to have many opportunities to hit one of these receivers multiple times on Sunday for some big gains and some big points (assuming the o-line gives him the time). I expect Wallace, Brown and Sanders to be open practically all day – it could turn into a blood bath if everything is clicking for this offense. The trick will be to hit these guys with the ‘touch pass’ arching wide over the secondary as they are left in the spray of turf from an open receiver’s cleats. The art of the ‘touch pass’ is hard to master, I’m sure it will come with time. Well in my opinion, that time is NOW. Who wouldn’t love to see Ben throw four touchdown passes – Wallace catching two of them for 150 yards and Brown catching the other two for over 100 yards?
Wouldn’t that send a message to any team still to face the Steelers? I’m looking at you Ratbirds…..