The Vikings didn’t make a big splash in free agency during the offseason, other than to bring back most of their own players for another season. Arguably, their biggest offseason move was swinging a trade with Miami to acquire wide receiver Mike Wallace.
A proven big-play threat in both Pittsburgh and Miami, Wallace has been one of the game’s elite deep threats in the league for the entirety of his career.
Yet, things haven’t been able to click with Wallace and Teddy Bridgewater yet. Appearing on The Paul Allen Show on KFAN-Radio Thursday morning, offensive coordinator Norv Turner said it has been a source of frustration because Bridgewater and Wallace are routinely hooking up on deep balls during the week, just not on Sundays.
“We’re so close and it’s tough,” Turner said. “It’s a great question because the plays that we’re just missing we make on the practice field. We need to keep working, we need to keep throwing to him in games and I think those plays will come.”
Wallace agrees with Turner’s assessment. He has come into most games this year expecting to get a couple of bomb shots deep down the field that could be his trademark game-breaker play. Unfortunately, he’s at a loss to explain why the connection hasn’t been more consistent between he and Bridgewater.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Wallace said. “We’re just a little off. I feel we’re right there, but we just don’t get the ball right where it needs to be to make a catch. We’re just a little bit off.”
Wallace believes that the plays will come because they’re getting closer all the time. There isn’t a reason to panic or get down on the system the Vikings are running because they see how close they are and there is still plenty of time to get on the same page and start making the big plays that have been expected since his arrival in Minnesota.
“We still have a whole half a season to play,” Wallace said. “I think we have to stay positive and good things will happen for us. We don’t get too many opportunities with all the guys as we have, but we have to make them count when we do get the opportunity.”
For a player who has made a reputation for big plays, including long touchdowns, the start of his Vikings career is reason to be frustrated. He’s on pace to catch 54 passes for 592 yards and two touchdowns. Those would be the fewest receptions of his career since becoming a starter and the lowest single-season yardage numbers he’s ever had in a season.
The biggest issue has been the lack of touchdowns. Wallace had never scored fewer than five touchdowns in a season and has scored eight or more in four of his first six years. Being on pace for just two this season doesn’t make sense. Nor does his lack of big plays. In his first 100 receptions of his career as a Steeler, he averaged more than 20 yards a catch. For his career, he has averaged better than 15 yards per reception. As a Vikings, he is averaging a career-low 11 yards a catch and has a season long of just 22 yards.
The only saving grace of his lack of big-time production has been that the team is winning and, despite not being a vital piece of the puzzle, winning trumps individual frustration.
“Of course it’s frustrating,” Wallace said. “But at the end of the day, we’re 6-2 and we’re winning football games. I’m going to do my part, just continue to work and good things will happen. It’s frustrating, but you can’t get mad. You need to continue to stay the course and hope that things will turn around.”
Mike Zimmer said he has talked with Wallace regularly and believes the big plays will come.
Despite his lack of production, Wallace’s teammates haven’t lost faith in his ability. They know what he brings to the table and he has been a model teammate, helping out younger guys and flashing the big-play ability that has made him one of the highest paid wide receivers in the league.
“He’s been a great teammate,” Adrian Peterson said. “He’s a hard worker. Most importantly, he’s a good guy. He’s a good guy in the locker room to have around some of our young receivers and young players, and of course he helps us on the field. He’s a threat that has to be accounted for.”
Wallace is holding out hope that he will be a bigger focus in the passing game because he sees the opportunities there for him to make big plays. With Peterson leading the league in rushing, teams are starting to sell out for the run in hopes of bottling up A.P.
As a result, play-action plays could lead to huge gains deep downfield, and as the fastest player on the team and one of the fastest in the league, Wallace sees the potential for breaking out in the second half of the season. He and Bridgewater are making the plays in practice. Wallace is convinced it will only be a matter of time before that translates into big plays on Sundays.
“We just have to stay the course, stay positive and work your routine every day,” Wallace said. “Like Coach Turner said, we hit it every time in practice. That’s not a problem, but you have to practice to get better. We want to hit them in games, not just practice. We’re right there. I just have to take upon myself to do better and I will.”