Steelers WR Jerricho Cotchery vs. Dolphins WR Mike Wallace
December 7, 2013 10:54 PM
The Steelers passing game hasn't missed a beat without former receiver Mike Wallace.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There has been no drop in production in the Steelers passing game since Mike Wallace spurned the team's contract offer and signed a $60 million deal in free agency with the Miami Dolphins.
In fact, if anything, their aerial production greatly has increased, especially from a player who has benefitted most from Wallace's absence -- slot receiver Jerricho Cotchery.
Wallace was arguably the NFL's best home run threat when he was with the Steelers, averaging 17.2 yards per catch and catching 14 touchdowns of 40 yards or longer from Ben Roethlisberger -- the most by an active duo in the NFL when they were together.
But, in 12 games with his new team, Wallace sometimes looks like an afterthought in the Dolphins offense. Yes, he has been targeted more times (101) than any of Miami's receivers, but he is second on the team with 56 catches and averages just 13.3 yards per catch.
What's more, Wallace has just three touchdowns and only nine catches of 20 yards or more. In four seasons with the Steelers, Wallace had 67 catches of 20-plus yards.
"You have to know where Mike Wallace is when he's on the field," Cotchery said. "When you watch the film, you see the guy run, his speed is something you probably haven't seen before, and defensive backs are very aware of that."
The loss of Wallace, though, has had little, if any, negative impact on the passing game -- at least in Todd Haley's offense.
Antonio Brown leads the NFL in receptions (85) and is third in the AFC in receiving yards (1,103) -- numbers that have him on pace to set team records in both categories.
And Cotchery has turned into one of the best values in the league as the slot receiver, catching five more touchdowns (8) than Wallace, averaging more yards per catch (14.1) and having just as many receptions of 20 yards or longer (9). When Wallace was with the Steelers, Cotchery's playing time was limited because Haley rarely used four wide receivers at one time.
"I think it defined roles a little more [when Wallace left]," Cotchery said. "You knew A.B. was going to be the No. 1 guy, you knew Emmanuel [Sanders] was going to be on the other side and I felt like I'd be in my natural position being back in the slot and I would complement those guys well, and that's how it played out.
Wallace was not the same kind of fit for Haley's offense as he was when Bruce Arians was the offensive coordinator. He had only nine catches of 20 yards or longer in 2012 after having 58 in his first three seasons. But he finished with 64 catches and tied for the team lead with eight touchdowns a year ago.
Wallace is beginning to look like the receiver somewhat worthy of the five-year, $60 million contract he signed. He has 12 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns, including a 53-yard touchdown and another catch of 57 yards against the Carolina Panthers.
"It was coach's first year and I wasn't in training camp so he got a chance to see other guys and the things they were able to do throughout training," Wallace said, referring to Haley. "With [Arians], it was more vertical I think than with Coach Haley and obviously that was my strength. I think Coach Haley is a great offensive coordinator, though, in his own right. It's just a different game plan."
The Steelers want to make sure the plan doesn't change.
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