BY DAVID J. NEAL
December 4, 2013
Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace breaks away from the tackle attempt by Jets cornerback Dee Milliner on his way to a touchdown last Sunday in East Rutherford. / AP
Wide receiver Mike Wallace spent four years in Pittsburgh before following the free-agent money trail to the Dolphins. Wallace knew the questions he would get this week as surely as he knows the reception he’ll get Sunday in Pittsburgh.
“I’m on a new team. I’m sure they’re not going to like that too much,” Wallace chuckled. “We all have to move on. I’ve moved on. Excited about another challenge in the playoff race. They’re just another team standing in our way in the playoff hopes. Just go out and try not to get too caught up into that. It’ll be kind of tough. I don’t try to get too caught up in who our opponent is.”
Wallace did allow that this game would bring more emotions to handle that when the Dolphins went to his native New Orleans earlier this year. After all, he’d already played there in his career.
“If anything, he might feel comfortable,” Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline said.
Though Wallace also knows Pittsburgh’s defensive backs better than his fellow Dolphins wide receivers do, his topography tips might wind up more important. Wallace knows the lay of the infamous Heinz Field land.
“It gets pretty bad. [The University of Pittsburgh] plays there a lot,” Wallace said. “Their season’s winding down. The field might be pretty good. Might be pretty bad. People used to always say we had the worst field in the league. I never thought that because I was playing on it every week. The grass comes up a lot, soft grass. You’ve got to be ready for it.”
Wallace came to the Dolphins with statistics that supported the idea that the Dolphins, in dump off mode since the late 1990s, imported the NFL’s premier deep threat. From 2009-2013, nobody exceeded Wallace’s 19 touchdowns of 30 yards or longer in 63 regular-season games. That works out to 4.8 per 16-game season. His 17.2 yards per catch ranked fourth in the NFL over that same period.
In 12 games this season, Wallace has only three touchdowns of any length, only two longer than 30 yards, only one on the kind of “go long” routes that open up defenses for everyone else. As far as yards per catch this season, Wallace’s 13.3 barely beats Hartline’s 13.0 yards per catch.
Given that Hartline’s previous career low was 14.3 in 2010 catching passes from “Check Down” Chad Henne, that might indicate Wallace’s production is also a matter of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s shortcomings when throwing long. The past two games, Tannehill hit Wallace five times for 127 yards and a touchdown against Carolina and seven times for 82 yards, including a 28-yard catch-and-run touchdown, against the Jets.
“I never lost my swagger. Never gone,” Wallace said. “Not really, trying to make the most of my opportunities, that’s all. Just feeling more comfortable every week in the offense. It’s time. It’s Time to hit stride. No more warming up, no more none of that. It’s time to go. It’s the perfect time for it. Get the kinks out of the way early. It’s December. It’s time to make a playoff run. You’ve got to make plays now. We don’t have time to wait.”