Will Wallace Go Off At Heinz Field?

Mike Wallace is just starting to warm up with the Miami Dolphins. Will he erupt in his return "home" to Heinz Field?

PITTSBURGH -- Mike Tomlin's transparency this week knows no bounds.

And that goes beyond his explanation for the sideline shuffle.

There was Mike Wallace, the deep threat who left the Steelers last spring for the greener pastures of Miami.

"Love Mike," said Tomlin. "Won't love Mike on Sunday."

Sunday, the Steelers must defend Wallace when the 6-6 Dolphins visit Heinz Field.

"We've got business, and he stands in the way," Tomlin said. "I think he has a respect for that. We do, too."

Wallace signed a five-year, $60 million contract to play with the Dolphins, but up until the last couple of weeks he hadn't been matching his former production.

In four seasons with the Steelers, Wallace caught 235 passes for 4,042 yards and 32 touchdowns. That's an average of 59-1,011-8 per season.

In 12 games with the Dolphins, Wallace has caught 56 passes for 743 yards and three touchdowns. That's a pace of 75-991-4.

The most drastic difference is in yards per catch. Wallace averaged 17.2 ypc. with the Steelers but only 13.3 with the Dolphins.

"You understand what Mike can do. Biggest deep threat in the league," said Steelers safety Ryan Clark. "We've just got to understand the beast we're facing and make him do other things. Make him catch short balls and break tackles and try run after the catch."

Perhaps that's what defenders around the league have been doing, but Wallace has perked up the last two weeks for Miami. Against the Carolina Panthers and New York Jets, Wallace combined for 12 catches, 209 yards and two touchdowns, a more Pittsburgh-like average of 17.4 yards per catch.

"He's played well, and I wouldn't limit it to the last two weeks," said Miami offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. "Obviously his measuring stick is going to be how many catches he has. My measuring stick is is he doing what he's supposed to do, what we're asking him to do on every single play. He's really made a difference in how people play us and has allowed opportunities for other people. People definitely have a concern that his speed can be damaging and so they have some concerns and they'll maybe play two people in his direction to try and have someone over the top sometimes. Sometimes they don't. Mike's doing a good job."

While teams are forced to play Wallace-led offenses differently because of his speed, his loss hasn't affected the Steelers much.

In fact, their passing game statistics have improved.

Last season, with Wallace, the Steelers completed 62 percent of their passes with a passer rating of 88.1 and an average yards per attempt of 7.0.

This season, the Steelers are completing 65 percent of their passes with a passer rating of 92.5 and an average yards per attempt of 7.3. They're also averaging 262 passing yards per game, up from 251 last season.

"We've had guys that've stepped up and they took to heart all the talk about how good are we going to be on offense without Mike Wallace," said Ben Roethlisberger. "You can't replace a guy like that. He's a great teammate, great football player, but guys are going to be the best AB, the best Emmanuel, J-Co that they can be. I think they've done a great job of that this year. I'm proud of the way they've handled things."

Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders will have dinner with their old friend Saturday night, and Wallace admitted to Miami reporters that he's looking forward to his return as much as they are.

"It's going to be exciting," said Wallace. "I already know how my welcome is going to be. It's not going to be too pretty, but I'm looking forward to it though. It's exciting."

Does Wallace expect the Heinz Field crowd to boo him?

"Definitely. Yeah," he said. "It is what it is. I'm on a new team. I'm pretty sure they're not going to like that too much, but we all have to move on. I've moved on. I'm excited about another challenge. We're in the playoff race. It's just another team standing in the way of our playoff hopes."

It won't just be the crowd waiting to stop Wallace. There's the unpredictable playing surface at Heinz Field, and the Steelers' defensive backs.

"They are smart, disciplined guys," Wallace said of the DBs. "It used to be a challenge every year in training camp. I'm excited about it, though. Man, they are some good players."

And the playing surface?

"It gets pretty bad in December," Wallace explained to the Miami media. "The field might be pretty good; it might be pretty bad. People always used to say we had the worst field in the league. I never really thought that because I was playing on it every week. It really didn't make a difference to me, but the grass comes up a lot. It's soft grass but you've got to be ready for it."

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