Biggest Shoes Mike Wallace Has To Fill Is Moving The Chains

There has been a ton of talk that second year receiver Mike Wallace will have big shoes to fill in 2010 with the loss of Santonio Holmes, because the assumption that Wallace will see better coverage competition going forward. The reality though is when Wallace was in games in 2009, he was often lined up outside and against the teams No. 1 or No. 2 corner. He worked against some good cover men in 2009 albeit not seeing much double coverage. The biggest shoes for Wallace to fill of Holmes in 2010 will be his short and intermediate route running against that same competition. It is no secret that Holmes is one of the best route runners in the league as evident by his ability to get open, make the catch and move the chains. In his rookie year, Wallace was used mostly as a speed guy to take the top off of coverages and clear out the underneath. He did and did it well. He finished second to only the late Chris Henry in 2009 in yards per reception with a stellar 19.4 yards per catch. He will be counted on more in 2010 to get open quicker in short and intermediate areas of the field now and his route running and strength will be more of a factor than his speed, especially on 1st downs where Holmes was his deadliest.

In the tables below, I broke down the Steelers receptions by downs in 2009 and included only the wide receivers and tight ends for the big picture of how deadly Holmes was at moving the chains. The first thing that jumps out is the yardage that Santonio Holmes had on 1st downs. His 642 yards on 1st down catches was second to only the Texans Andre Johnson. 77% of those catches resulted in moving the chains again as well. That 77% tied him with Johnson for the best 1st down per reception percentage rate of all receivers with 19 or more catches on first down. Holmes also ranked 4th overall in receivers with 40 or more catches on all downs in his success rate of moving the chains per catch with an 80% success rate. A pretty amazing success rate with as many catches that he had. 8 out of 10 times he caught a pass, it resulted in a first down.

Hines Ward was 9th in the NFL in yardage on 1st downs as well and team wise, the Steelers ranked 2nd in the NFL in wide receiver yardage on 1st down behind only the Patriots. Pretty amazing numbers. Second down was all Ward as he ranked second in the league in yardage of all receivers on 2nd down with 508 yards. Tight end Heath Miller ranked 4th among all tight ends in second down yardage in 2009 as well. I expect this is where Heath will really see his numbers inflate in 2010 in order to relieve some of the pressure of the loss of Santonio. 45 catches on 2nd down for 450 yards in not unthinkable. Looking back at the tape of 2009, Santonio was paid a lot of attention on second downs and explains why Ward was targeted so much on that down.

In closing, I do not expect the Steelers to throw as much on 1st down as they did in in 2009, especially in the first 4 games without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This makes it imperative that the running game produce better on 1st downs to set up a wider availability of play calls on 2nd down. The shorter the yardage needed the more play calling options you have plain and simple and the easier it is to keep defenses on their heels. Ward and Miller will continue to be relied on heavily on second down, but Wallace will likely be the priority, first option on 1st and 3rd down pass plays much like Holmes was. Wallace will be fine in my opinion to the adjustment, he just needs to make sure is getting off of the ball well, running precise routes and his catches are moving the chains like Holmes was able to do. Make every catch count.

First Down

Hines WardWR544074%52513.12050%3
Santonio HolmesWR613964%64216.53077%3
Heath MillerTE363083%32310.81137%2
Mike WallaceWR20945%22925.4556%2
Matt SpaethTE33100%155.000%0
David JohnsonTE4250%94.500%0
Limas SweedWR100%00.000%0

Second Down

Hines WardWR554276%50812.12662%2
Heath MillerTE393282%3189.91856%3
Santonio HolmesWR341750%22913.51376%0
Mike WallaceWR251560%26217.51067%2
Limas SweedWR2150%55.000%0
Matt SpaethTE3133%99.000%0

Third Down

Santonio HolmesWR402255%34515.71986%2
Mike WallaceWR271556%26517.71493%2
Heath MillerTE231461%14810.6857%1
Hines WardWR261350%13410.31185%1
Tyler GrishamWR2150%1414.01100%0
Limas SweedWR200%00.000%0

Fourth Down

Matt SpaethTE11100%11.01100%1
Santonio HolmesWR3133%3232.01100%0
Hines WardWR100%00.000%0
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