Last year with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Wallace had the second-worst season of his career. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed 3 games, and he played hurt behind one of the NFL's worst offensive lines in several more games. In addition, the Steelers backup QB was a 37 year old Charlie Batch who played poorly and retired after the season. Understandably, that hurt Mike Wallace's production.
Well, this year, Wallace is set to fall short of last year's production. Check out Wallace's production last year compared to this year. I've extrapolated his numbers this year to 15 games, the number of games Wallace played last year, to illustrate the decline.
|2012 (15 games)||64||4.3||836||55.7||13.1||8||0.5|
Wallace's number of catches per game has held steady, but he's on pace to finish with fewer yards and touchdowns this year with Ryan Tannehill than he had last year with injured Ben Roethlisberger and "past-his-expiration-date" Charlie Batch throwing him the ball.
Mike Sherman recently praised the way Wallace consistently ran his routes and got open last game, which forced the Chargers to adjust their defense even though he wasn't targeted. Those adjustments in turn helped the Dolphins' running game and the team's other receivers get open. However, while it's great that Wallace is still an effective "decoy" that attracts the defense's attention, the fact is that last year, he was able to be a focal point of the opposing defenses AND produce more than he has this year.
This decline wasn't supposed to happen. As a rookie, Ryan Tannehill showed some promise throwing the deep ball on a limited number of attempts. However, despite having an improved wide receiver cast, his productivity has gone down. Included below are Tanenhill's numbers on passes traveling at least 20 yards in the air, including Pro Football Focus' "accuracy percentage." The "Accuracy percentage" stat is different from completion percentage because drops don't count as missed throws. I've extrapolated his numbers to 15 games this season to illustrate how Tannehill has fallen behind his rookie-year pace. I chose 15 games because he missed most of the second game against the Jets last year, so he only really completed 15 games.
|Season||Attempts (Rank)||Attempts/Game||Accuracy % (Rank)||Yards (Rank)||Yards/Game||TDs (Rank)||INTs (Rank)|
|2012||51 (22nd)||3.4||43.1 (7th)||671 (16th)||44.7||3 (22nd)||1 (22nd)|
|2013 (actual)||34 (19th)||3.4||35.3 (15th)
||314 (20th)||31.4||2 (20th)
||5 (Most in NFL)
|2013 (extrapolated)||51||3.4||35.3 (15th)||471||31.4||3||7.5|
That drop in accuracy percentage from 43.1% to 35.3% might not seem like a lot, but remember - these numbers are based only on throws that travel greater than 20 yards in the air. That means every missed throw represents at least 20 yards, and in the case of Mike Wallace, probably more yards given that he's gotten deep past the free safety on some of these missed throws. Because the "accuracy percentage" stat doesn't count drops as missed throws, that means that Tannehill's "accuracy" drop isn't due to Wallace's drops (which have been a problem I'll discuss in a future article). Also - despite the investment in Wallace, Tannehill is attempting exactly the same number of deep throws per game as he did last year. However, he's been less accurate and more prone to throwing interceptions on deeper throws than last year.
Everybody will come up with their own opinion for that statistical decline. I do think the two best explanations are the combination of a worse offensive line this year plus Tannehill consistently throwing the ball late. That momentary hesitation before attempting deep throws has meant his throws tend to fall short of his intended target and the opposing safety/cornerback has more time to adjust to Wallace's deep route.
Joe Philbin apparently agreed with that assessment since he reportedly had a discussion with Tannehill about throws to Mike Wallace and said, "Rip it!" In other words, rather than hesitate, just let the ball fly and trust Wallace to get underneath it. Tannehill himself admitted that he's been "too conservative" when it comes to trying deep throws to Wallace. While the safety on Wallace's side does frequently commit to taking away Wallace, there have been times when Tannehill has been reluctant to test even one-on-one matchups. However, it's very important to take those matchups when they present themselves because it leads to big play opportunities, even if the catch isn't made.
For example, against the Bengals, Tannehill audibled late in the game to a deep-pass to Wallace after he saw Wallace had one-on-one coverage. Wallace beat his man, and Bengals cornerback Terence Newman was forced to tackle Wallace to prevent a potential long touchdown, which led to a long pass interfence penalty. Tannehill clearly has the ability to audible to a deep throw to Wallace, but I've very rarely seen him try it this season. Tannehill admitted that he's been wary of lofting the ball into the air and giving Wallace a chance to get underneath it since that also increases the chances of an interception. However, with the Dolphins offense currently ranked in categories such as yards per game and points per game one of the 8 worst in the NFL, there's frankly not much to lose at this point. The run game simply isn't consistent enough to allow the Dolphins to run a conservative, run-heavy offense.
Given that reality, our quarterback has to extend plays with his legs and take chances down the field to gain chunk yards because smart defenses are going to load up the middle of the field and challenge Tannehill to beat them deep. Either the offense will become more productive with more deep throws to Wallace, or Tannehill's interceptions will go up due to him not having the accuracy to utilize Wallace's deep speed. We'll find out over the next 6 games.