The transformation of Mike Wallace this season has not been of the kind that most Steelers fans had hoped for after the first three years of his career. Wallace has not been nearly as sharp this season and seems like a shell of his former self. I have scrutinized his apparent lack of effort multiple times this season. Yesterday, Wallace spoke to the media about his "struggles" this year. Most of his quotes can be found in this article from the Tribune-Review that basically points to Wallace losing focus during games as a reason for his dropoff in production and dropping the ball.
However, the quote that struck me was this one from Mike: "when you don’t get the ball for two-and-half quarters, you lose focus. But that’s the type of offense this is. We’re spreading it around, so you’re not going to get as many targets. When you get them, you have to make the best of them." On the surface, this seems like a fairly innocent comment which seemingly would be true in the offensive transition from Bruce Arians to Todd Haley. The problem is that the statement is flat out wrong.
Wallace is claiming that he is not seeing as many targets this season as he did in years past because the ball is being spread around more. Let's take a look at the raw numbers, per ESPN.
In his rookie year of 2009, Wallace had 39 receptions on 72 targets for 756 yards. Wallace caught 54.2% of the balls thrown his way and averaged 19.4 yards per catch. On a per game basis, Wallace averaged 4.5 targets per game.
Wallace's 2010 season was a bit of a breakout year as he had 60 receptions on 100 targets for 1257 yards. In 2010 Wallace caught 60% of his targets, averaged 21 yards per catch, and saw 6.25 targets per game.
In 2011 Wallace saw the ball even more, recording 72 receptions on 113 targets for 1193 yards. He caught even more of his targets (63.7%) than in the past two seasons but saw a dropoff in yards per catch down to 16.6. His targets also increased to 7.06 per game.
Through the first 12 weeks of the 2012 season, Wallace is claiming that the ball is being spread around more and he hasn't has as many targets. He has 52 catches on 93 targets for 616 yards. This is his lowest catch rate (55.9%) since his rookie year and the lowest yards per catch (down to 11.8) of his career. However, his targets have actually increased this season to 7.75 per game. If Wallace continues on this pace over the last four weeks, he will see 124 targets on the season, an increase of 11 targets over his 2011 season.
Even if you break down targets as a percentage of the passing offense, Wallace's 93 targets on the Steelers 441 passing attempts means the ball comes his way on 21.1% of the Steelers passing plays. This is a marginal increase over 2011 where Wallace was targeted on 20.9% of passing plays and 2010 where Wallace got looks on 20.8% of passing plays.
Any way you slice it, Mike Wallace is just flat out wrong in his assessment of the offense. He is getting more targets per game this season but catching balls at a lower rate than either of the last two seasons. Some of this is due to quarterback play, such as Charlie Batch missing a wide open Wallace in the end zone last week. However some of it is also due to Wallace's lack of effort and refusal to come back for the ball or lay out to try to make a catch or try to battle defenders in the air for the ball. Wallace has also had more drops this season than in any other year of his career and has left at least 3 touchdowns on the field over the course of the season. Wallace's gripe with the offense is more likely the lack of "go" routes or deep balls that are coming his way, but in his development into being a complete receiver, he needs to show he is capable of making the clutch catches such as slant routes on 3rd down that can help set up the big plays down the field. Wallace has also seen a lot more double-teams this season, but his targets have not decreased (as he believes) even though he hasn't been as open this year as he was in previous years.