Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and wide receiver Mike Wallace still have work to do if they hope to eventually form one of the league’s most explosive connections for the Miami Dolphins. Tannehill has misfired on several deep-ball attempts while Wallace has dropped 11 passes, which is the second-highest total in the league.
The two’s rapport is far from where it needs to be, but it is progressing.
After failing to live up to the five-year, $60 million deal he signed back in March during the first 10 games of the season, Wallace is beginning to find his stride down the stretch in 2013. He still hasn’t been the big-play machine that the Dolphins paid for, but production is production.
Over the past two weeks, Wallace has caught a combined 12 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns, and those numbers would be considerably higher if Tannehill wouldn’t have underthrew and overthrew Wallace on two deep shots in Week 12. During his first 10 games in Miami, Wallace only averaged 53.4 receiving yards per contest and managed a grand total of one touchdown. Now, Wallace is nearly back on track to record his third 1,000-yard season as a pro.
His emergence has come at an ideal time for a potential Dolphins’ playoff push. It has also come at an ideal time for an intriguing showdown with his old team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Wallace’s four-year stay in Pittsburgh ended this past offseason when the Steelers didn’t offer him an extension. The Steelers haven’t exactly missed Wallace’s production at receiver, being that Antonio Brown currently ranks fifth in the entire NFL with 1,103 receiving yards — 350 more yards than Wallace has put up thus far in Miami. With a 5-7 record, though, Pittsburgh is on schedule to suffer its first losing season since 2003.
One would assume Wallace would be eager to prove to the Steelers that they made a mistake by letting him walk. But according to Wallace, it isn’t about that. While he admitted he is “excited” to face his old team, he also told the South Florida media on Tuesday that he doesn’t “want to get caught up into too much hype going into a personal battle with these guys because it’s not really about that, it’s about moving forward.”
It’s hard to believe the Steelers are just another team to Wallace, but if his only concern is really just winning the football game, it’s at least a great matchup for him to continue building momentum and chemistry with Tannehill. Wallace’s likely assignment on Sunday: beating former teammate Ike Taylor.
Taylor has been solid at cornerback for the Steelers for almost a decade, but he’s in the midst of a brutal campaign. According to Pro Football Focus, Taylor ranks 105th of 112 players at the position. No cornerback in the entire NFL has given up as many yards in coverage than the 854 Taylor has conceded. He’s also allowed five touchdowns. It’s an opportunistic matchup for the surging Wallace to say the least.
Sunday will be a crucial game for Wallace for several reasons, regardless of the fact he’ll be playing at Heinz Field for the first time while donning colors other than black and yellow. The Dolphins are tied for the final playoff spot in the AFC, and Wallace has been a big reason why they’ve played well over the past two weeks.
If he continues to make plays on Sunday in Pittsburgh, there’s a strong chance that Miami can move above .500 for the first time since October. And if the Dolphins are 7-6 when the clock hits zeros on Sunday, maybe then it becomes personal for Wallace, who could bask in the glory of defeating the team that deemed him replaceable.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.