When wide receiver Mike Wallace signed with the Miami Dolphins this past offseason a lot has been made of the loss of his speed in the Pittsburgh Steelers offense as it relates to the deep passing game. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was asked about that loss of speed on Tuesday following the first mandatory mini camp practice of the 2013 season, and he let it be known that speed isn\’t necessarily a need for a receiver to be successful in his system.
“I think we’ve got fast guys as it is. I think these other guys would probably be offended if you called them slow,” said Haley. “Mike, obviously, was a rare speed guy but I view AB [Antonio Brown] and Emmanuel [Sanders] and potentially some of these young guys as rare speed guys. If you look in the Hall of Fame there are not many sub-4.4 guys in there.
“I mentioned Keyshawn [Johnson], but Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, don’t tell them, but those guys had a hard time breaking 4.5. We’ve got plenty of speed so not a lot is going to change from that standpoint. We’re still going to use our players to their strengths as best we can and we just have to win more games.”
In Haley\’s first season as the offensive coordinator Steelers quarterbacks attempted only 8 fewer passes of 20 yards or more over the course of the season than they did in 2011, according to Pro Football Focus, and that was with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missing three and a half games due to being injured.
While those stats don\’t really reflect the Steelers offense being less vertical in 2012 in contrast to 2011, a difference can be seen in the yards per route stats over the course of the last four seasons. For example, prior to Haley arriving, Steelers wide receivers averaged 1.88 yards per route from 2009-2011. In 2012, however, the group averaged just 1.57 yards per route, which is a decrease of .31 yards per route.
Now, I want to stop right here as it is obvious that many receivers aren\’t as well-rounded as others, which means that some best fit some offensive passing attacks more so than others and in my opinion, this happened to be the case with Wallace. I know everyone is tired of the one-trick pony reference that head coach Mike Tomlin used in relation to Wallace over the years, but we saw last season that he is certainly more of a vertical receiver as opposed to a receiver like Larry Fitzgerald, who is effective in not only a vertical passing game, but a horizontal one as well. Face it, Wallace has been the Steelers worst route runner ever since he was drafted, but he fit the system used by former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians perfectly.
I\’m not knocking Wallace here, but once Arians was turned loose, and Haley was hired to replace him, either Haley needed to change his passing attack to be a little more vertical to better accommodate Wallace or Wallace needed to become a better route runner to accommodate Haley. Unfortunately, neither of those two things really happened. While Wallace nearly equaled the 72 receptions that he had in 2011, his completion rate dropped a whole 10% in one year. While everyone will point to his drops as being the main reason why, PFF has him dropping six passes in 2012 as opposed to five in 2011.
Yes, the Steelers do need a vertical threat in 2013 in order to keep defenses honest, and I suspect that Emmanuel Sanders will be that guy until rookie Markus Wheaton is ready to contribute on a full-time basis. Hopefully that is sooner than later. Wheaton not only has deep speed, albeit not that of Wallace, he is already twice the route runner that Wallace is and was.
As far as throwing the ball deep more in 2013 as opposed to 2012, Roethlisberger hinted on Tuesday that they likely will.
“I don’t know. We are going to have to wait to see what happens in game one. I don’t want to unveil any secrets yet,” said Roethlisberger.