Packers Better Equipped For Wallace This Time

While Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward remain staples of the Steelers' offense, second-year receiver Mike Wallace has become the No. 1 weapon. A human highlight reel because of his blazing speed, Wallace hurt the Packers in 2009 and will be a challenge in the Super Bowl even for a much more complete defense.

The last time the Green Bay Packers were set to face the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Wallace, he had just 32 catches and three touchdowns in 13 games, only one of which was in a starting role.

Then the rookie wide receiver got his second start and scored two touchdowns, a 60-yarder on the first play from scrimmage for the Steelers and a 19-yarder on the last play of scrimmage to help beat the Packers in a thriller, 37-36, at Heinz Field in Week 15 of last season.

That was really just a beginning for Wallace, who in his second season has become the No. 1 big-play weapon in the NFL and a major focus of the Packers' defense headed into Super Bowl XLV on Sunday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

"He's very explosive. Very fast and dynamic," Packers defensive back Jarrett Bush said. "We've got to contain him. We've got to keep some safeties over the top, keep our corners on him high shoulder and do the best we can to shut him down."

Bush should know. He was beat in coverage on Wallace's 60-yard touchdown, and since then, Wallace has made plays like that with regularity.

Building on the raw talent he showed his rookie year, Wallace became the Steelers' leading receiver in 2010 with 60 catches for 1,257 yards, good for 21.0 yards per catch. He also had 10 touchdowns.

No receiver in the league had more big plays than Wallace. He not only led the league in 20-plus yard catches (26), but also 40-yard yard catches (10).

"He has a talent that not too many people have," said Packers cornerback Tramon Williams, "and they use that."

At the forefront of that talent is blinding speed. Wallace was clocked at 4.33 in the 40-yard dash at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine and other reports that year had him clocked faster than that. For his size — 6-foot, 199 pounds — there is perhaps no other receiver in the league who can stop and start faster.

"He just has pure speed no matter how you look at it," said Williams. "He's fast in every aspect of the word. That's pretty much why he runs by people and gets behind people."

This time around, the Packers should be better prepared to handle Wallace. It starts with personnel. Bush, the nickel back at the end of the 2009 season, and cornerback Josh Bell, who was covering Wallace on the final play of that game, are no longer in their respective roles (Bell is on injured reserve).


Sam Shields
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Instead, the Packers have Williams playing at Pro Bowl level at one cornerback and reigning defensive player of the year Charles Woodson wreaking havoc as hybrid-type linebacker/slot cornerback much of the time. The biggest difference, however, has been the development of undrafted rookie cornerback Sam Shields, who has been consistent in coverage all season, including the playoffs.

Unlike Bush and Bell, Shields has proved to be a closer in the clutch, coming up with interceptions to effectively end the first half and then the game last week in the NFC Championship at Chicago. Just as important, he has 4.3 speed to match up with a guy like Wallace.

As Wallace has become a more complete receiver in his second season, so too has the Packers' defense. After being lit up by Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger (503 passing yards) in 2009, the secondary has become much more dependable with one more year of experience under defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

"There are a lot of things that are different from last year," said Bush. "We have a lot more packages now. We feel like we match up better now. This is our second year in the defense now instead of our first year, so everything is completely different from just the way we run the defense to our versatility. So we should be alright. We've just got to execute and keep doing what we're doing, and continue to play lights out."

That should help in the matchup with Steelers weapons Hines Ward, Heath Miller,and Antwaan Randle El, and prepare for the speed of Wallace, said Bush.

"With schemes and film and where he lines up, when he's in the slot, when he's the No. 1 receiver, they like to run a lot of bunches and they like to set him up deep to get down the field. … He's worked on his routes since last year, but his speed and his stretching-the-field ability is what makes him so unique, so we've got to stay on top of him."

Thus far through the playoffs, unlike the regular season, Wallace's opponents have kept him in check. Against the Ravens and Jets, Wallace had just four catches for 26 yards. Just one catch (for 6 yards) came in last Sunday's AFC Championship Game.

"It's just the fact that Ben (Roethlisberger) had other options open at that point and that's what they choose to go to," said Williams of watching video of the most recent Steelers game.

Williams, Shields and Co. are hoping they can have the same type of success against a relatively uncommon opponent in Wallace. When Bush was asked if he could think of a receiver as fast as Wallace, he paused for about 20 seconds, mentioned Percy Harvin and Randy Moss as being similar, and then said, "There might be a couple receivers who we haven't played, but I think he's probably the fastest."


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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