Though he finished with another touchdown reception from 26 yards out on Ben Roethlisberger's lone scoring pass of the Steelers' 23-20 Week 9 loss to the Ravens, I'd argue that, for the first time all season, Mike Wallace was largely a non-factor. Credit the Ravens for playing Wallace physically at or near the line of scrimmage, bracketing him intelligently with safety help, and configuring their secondary in a way that dissuaded Ben Roethlisberger from taking his perfunctory one or two shots per game down the field deep to Wallace.
Great players, however, still manage to make their presence felt on the stat sheet even when they're not a major factor. And that's what Wallace managed to do on Sunday night. Perhaps 'stuff the stat sheet' is a bit generous, but by hauling in four catches for 68 yards and a score, Wallace avoided the type of dud game statistically that can derail any chances of a spectacular individual season materializing. As is though, Wallace's productivity is still tapering off enough where we we'll only be continuing this exercise down the stretch for continuity's sake, not because he's on the verge of registering one of the top-ten greatest single seasons from a wide receiver in NFL history.
To Wallace's updated weekly numbers:
|Week 1 @ BAL||8||107||13.38||0|
|Week 2 vs SEA||8||126||15.75||1|
|Week 3 @ IND||5||144||28.8||1|
|Week 4 @ HOU||4||77||19.25||0|
|Week 5 vs TEN||6||82||13.66||1|
|Week 6 vs JAX||2||76||38.00||1|
|Week 7 @ ARI||3||118||39.33||1|
|Week 8 vs NE||7||70||10.00||1|
|Week 9 vs BAL||4||68||16.5||0|
ON PACE FOR:
And to the individual leaders in receptions, receiving yards, yards per reception and receiving touchdowns. Once all 32 teams have had their bye week here in a few short week's time, it will be more fun and interesting to begin projecting individual season totals, as well as how various playoff races might shake out. I believe the Steelers and a handful of other teams have their bye week come at the latest date possible this year, in Week 11 not long before Thanksgiving.
Anyway, for now, let's see how Walalce compares to his peers at the wide receiver and tight end positions. In a word: great. Wallace will need one, if not two, monster games to really finish with a gaudy stat line (something, say, along the lines of 95 receptions, 1750 yards, 14 TDs). But even without a 150-yard, 2 TD game in any of the Steelers' final seven regular season games this year, Wallace is in solid position to post a 1,500 yard season with double-digit touchdowns, and for the third time in as many professional seasons, finish at or near the very top of the all-important yards per reception category. He may not finish first in any of the major traditional stat categories, but he's well on his way to a top five showing in all of them. Great stuff. Let's take a look.
2011 WR Leaders (through Week 8)
Receptions (WRs and TEs only):
- Wes Welker --66
- Jimmy Graham --55
- Calvin Johnson -- 48
- Greg Jennings -- 47
- Mike Wallace -- 47
Thoughts: If Wallace can finish with 80 or more receptions, he'll have increased his output from 2010 by a healthy 20 percent. The runaway leader, Welker, Johnson and Smith, not far behind with 46 receptions, have all played one fewer game than Wallace. Needless to say, No. 17 for the Steelers isn't a legitimate contender to maintain his current standing in this race. Walker should be an absolute lock to win his third receptions title since 2007. If he can replicate his first half receptions total in the Patriots final eight games of the year, Welker will surpass his career-high of 123 receptions set back in 2009 with a 132 catch season. Amazingly enough, that'd still be 10 shy of the record 142 receptions hauled in by Marvin Harrison in 2002.
Receiving Yards (Yards/Game):
- Wes Welker -- 960 (120.0)
- Steve Smith -- 918 (114.8)
- Mike Wallace -- 868 (96.4)
- Calvin Johnson -- 804 (100.5)
- Jimmy Graham -- 791 (87.9)
- Gregg Jennings -- 723 (90.4)
Thoughts: We can obviously throw 2 G's out the window, though as readers have been quick to point out, Wallace never really 'predicted' he'd get there. Jerry Rice's single-season record of 1,846 yards looks to be in serious jeopardy from not only Welker, and perhaps even Smith were he to have one or two more huge games. Wallace, meanwhile, having already played nine of the Steelers' 16 games, is still in contention for a 1,500 yard season, which would easily upend Yancy Thigpen's single-season record of 1,398, a 15-year and counting franchise record dating back to 1997.
Yards per Reception (minimum 20 receptions):
- Steve Smith -- 20.0
- Torrey Smith -- 19.8
- Jordy Nelson -- 19.8
- Mike Wallace -- 18.5
- Johnny Knox -- 18.1
Thoughts: This is the category that I really care about. If Wallace can inch past Steve Smith by season's end, he'll have led the league in yards/reception for the second time in three seasons. In 2010, Wallace slacked off and merely finished 2nd a shade behind DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia. With the Panthers likely to be playing from behind frequently, and Cam Newton already having proven he's willing to look Smith's way regardless of the coverage, it's unlikely that Wallace will be able to keep pace. But who knows, maybe those factors will actually hurt Smith if he has too many balls thrown his way as compared to Wallace, who almost certainly will only have his number called six to ten times per game most weeks.
- Calvin Johnson -- 11
- Scott Chandler, Eric Decker, Rob Grankowski, Vincent Jackson, Greg Jennings, Mike Wallace, Wes Welker -- 6
- Seven players -- 5
Thoughts: Incredible stuff so far from Calvin Johnson. Finally a Lions game on Thanksgiving Day worth watching? About damn time. Last one I can remember, one Barry Sanders was still turning heads and dropping jaws. Anyway, it's a race for second place. It's a long shot, but if Wallace can distance himself from all but the freakish Johnson, that'd be quite the accomplishment. Hell, just eclipsing 10 for the 2011 season would leave me fond memories for life.