Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beat writer Ed Bouchette does an excellent job. He has been around the Steelers long enough to have a very good feel of the team and plenty of excellent sources.
And there are some good points in today’s feature about Mike Wallace, but one of the core theories of it is simply completely and entirely wrong.
According to Bouchette:
It was simple math compared to the trigonometry assignment Wallace has this season. He moves from being the receiver who runs deep all the time against man-to-man coverage by the opponent’s No. 3 cornerback, to replacing Santonio Holmes at split end, where double coverage, shutdown corners and more complicated routes are the norm.
If you have been reading the Lounge since our first week, you know what part of that is a falacy. It may be true that Mike Wallace will have to run more of the route tree this year. And it may be true that he’ll face double coverage this year that he didn’t last year. But Wallace didn’t face backup cornerbacks last year–he faced starters just like he will this year. As we showed, he was being guarded by starters on 60 his 71 passes last year, including most of his big plays.
There’s an obvious reason that Bouchette wrote this, he was being told it by Hines Ward. Ward said that Wallace was rarely getting starters while Holmes and/or Ward was facing double coverage and better corners. It sounds great, but the reality is that Ward is the guy who was facing backups whenever Wallace was in the game.
You don’t need to be insane like me to figure this out (it doesn’t require rewatching each and every pass thrown to Wallace like I did). You can just think about it logically. When Wallace came into the game, he almost always lined up on the same side as Ward, with Ward in the slot and Wallace on the outside. Holmes was usually on the other side, alone.
With very few exceptions, teams put their best corners on the outside, for a reason. Nickel backs are usually smaller and often slower, but with plenty of agility–think Deshea Townsend, not Ike Taylor. One of the reasons for that is that there’s less margin for error on the outside. If a team is in a Cover One (one safety over the top) then a cornerback on the outside has no safety help on a deep sideline route. In a Cover Three (with the cornerbacks dropping into deep zones on the sideline), once again, the outside corners are the line of last defense.
On the inside as a nickel or dime corner, you usually are responsible for underneath stuff, and you almost always have a safety behind you if you get beat. Because of that, very few teams “flip” their corners when they bring extra defensive backs in. The starters stay on the outside while the nickel and dime backs (or a safety who is a hybrid corner/safety) moves inside.
Whenever Wallace came in the game, with few exceptions, Ward was in the slot and very, very few teams slide their starting corners because of the matchup. Now hopefully, Emmanuel Sanders emergence will let Ward stay in the slot, but until then, I’m more worried about Ward going back out to the outside (which seems like if Antwaan Randle-El is the No. 3 receiver) than I am in seeing if Wallace can slide over to Holmes’ spot.