If you've been following the Pittsburgh Steelers during their run through the AFC playoffs, you're probably aware that Mike Wallace hasn't been making too much of an impact. If you've been following the Pittsburgh Steelers for the last two years, you're probably aware that this is a complete anomaly. Despite his poor stat line of four catches, 26 yards, and no touchdowns this post-season, Wallace is a big threat for the Steelers and one that the Green Bay Packers absolutely need to take seriously.
Thankfully for Packers fans, the team is pretty well-equipped to deal with a player with Wallace's skill-set. Cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Sam Shields both come very close to matching Wallace for pure athleticism, and Charles Woodson's fantastic instincts and technique make up for the fact that he has arguably lost a step in the last couple of seasons. Additionally, Nick Collins is great at helping with coverage over the top of the defense.
Wallace is a great player, but all players have their flaws. Let's start by looking at why Wallace hasn't exactly gained "superstar" status yet.
Between his average statistics, questionable route running, and questionable hands, he fell to the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Thanks to the coaching he's received in Pittsburgh and the immense talent he's had all along, Wallace has improved all of these things.
The influence of one of the NFL's best route runners, Hines Ward, has almost certainly helped him improve in that department. Hands are just a matter of focus and technique; it's not like guys who can't catch usually have some kind of major anatomical issue. Still, he makes the occasional drop. His stats are no longer average, since Wallace notched 1,257 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns in a run-first offense that played their first four games without their starting quarterback.
However, even if Wallace was mediocre at running routes and catching the ball, he'd still be a dangerous player. Wallace's main attribute is his speed, and he knows how to use it. Because of this and because of the role that he now plays in our defense, it's unlikely that Woodson is going to be involved in much one on one coverage with Wallace, if any. This job is going to fall to Williams and Shields, probably leaning towards Williams on first and second downs, while Shields could take the responsibility on third down. This is because Woodson is likely to match up with Ward while Williams covers Wallace when the Packers are playing man coverage in four defensive back sets, but when the Packers have five defensive backs on the field, Woodson will play a different role and it seems likely that Williams would shift to covering Ward.
These match-ups seem like a push, possibly leaning towards a Packers advantage, but Mike Wallace is a home run hitter. He disappeared from both of the Steelers' playoff games, but he can break a massive play at any time, and for that reason, he needs to be watched closely. Based on his performances over his career, his talent, and the talent and performances of the Packers' defense, it seems safe to say that Wallace will put up stats somewhere in-between his playoff showings thus far and his better regular season performances.
Sam Shields on Wallace: 4 targets, 2 catches
Tramon Williams on Wallace: 5 targets, 2 catches
Mike Wallace statistics: 4 catches, 45 yards, 0 touchdowns