Mike Wallace is not and never truly has been a No. 1 wide receiver. Of course, the numbers he put up during four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers (235 receptions, 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns) serve to contradict that, but Wallace’s successes were largely due to playing in a high-flying offense with a top-notch quarterback.
That’s not to say that Wallace can’t improve an offense. Instead, it’s to say that he was miscast (and overpaid) as a top receiver in Miami, and later in Minnesota and has received an unnecessary amount of flak for it. Maybe he didn’t deserve $12 million a season, but it’s hard to fault him for accepting it.
With that in mind, some were skeptical when Wallace inked a deal with the Baltimore Ravens this past offseason. His two-year, $11.5 million contract was more reasonable than the mega-deal he signed with Miami, but still, a decent chunk of money for a 30-year-old coming off a career-worst season.
It didn’t take long for Wallace to show off why Baltimore scooped him up. On Sunday, Wallace broke free of Buffalo cornerback Stephon Gilmore to score a 66-yard touchdown - Baltimore’s only touchdown on the day. Wallace’s one-time head coach in Pittsburgh, Mike Tomlin, used to refer to the deep threat as a “one trick pony.” That statement may be accurate, but hey, it’s a hell of a trick to have in your back pocket.
It was an otherwise sluggish day for Baltimore’s offense. Justin Forsett and Terrance West both had modest outputs running the ball. Joe Flacco had an efficient return to the field, completing 23 passes to 10 different receivers while throwing for 258 yards and a score. Still, Buffalo managed to clamp down in its own territory, limiting Baltimore to, aside from Wallace’s touchdown, just two field goals.
But, thanks to Wallace’s presence, that didn’t matter. It was his score that made the difference in Baltimore’s 13-7 victory. The 2011 Pro Bowler sent a message to his critics and to opposing defenders all at once - all it takes is one. One defender out of position or a step slow and Wallace is gone. And he’s not afraid to let you know it either.
“If you have a safety on me,” Wallace said (per NFL.com’s Kevin Patra), “he’s dead every time.”
With a strong-armed quarterback in Flacco around to deliver him the ball, Wallace has every right to be feeling confident. And the Ravens, of course, should be feeling pretty good about adding a dimension to their offense that has not been seen since Torrey Smith was burning defenders a few seasons ago.
The presence of a rejuvenated Wallace is exciting in itself, but it also opens up some new possibilities for Baltimore. Defenders will be forced to take notice when Wallace is on the field. Safeties will have to stay back and watch for anything deep. This means that Baltimore’s talented bunch of skill players should be afforded a bit more space in which to operate.
With teams unable to overcommit to the run, West and Forsett should see more running room. A less aggressive defense means that both runners, as well as Baltimore’s trio of talented tight ends should be more successful converting short throws into solid gains. And the presence of Wallace along with fellow speedster Breshad Perriman, who caught a 35-yarder of his own on Sunday, means Steve Smith Sr. and Kamar Aiken should have more room to operate on the short-to-intermediate stuff.
Wallace will likely never be a 1,000-yard receiver again. His big plays will be inconsistent from week to week. However, if Week 1 is any indication, he could prove to be a huge coup for Baltimore. Not just for what he accomplishes, but for what he’ll open up for his teammates.