Steel-City speedsters: Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown

Posted Dec. 14, 2011 @ 4:05 p.m.
Posted By

Jim Wexell

PITTSBURGH — Through the ups and downs that have come to mark the career of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, Mayor Tony has always been in his corner.

Tony Iriti isn't the mayor of Findlay, Ohio anymore. He joked that his support of Findlay's favorite son over Findlay's favorite teams did him in. But Mayor Tony always had Roethlisberger's best interests at heart.

So a few years back, while Roethlisberger was in the thick of taking the 340 sacks that have come to define his career — almost as much as his 89-35 won-lost record (including playoffs) and two rings — Mayor Tony claimed that it wasn't all the fault of the Steelers' offensive line.

"Someday we're going to have receivers who can beat linebackers," Mayor Tony said. "I know Ben doesn't have a lot of time to throw, but he doesn't have any receivers open, either."

Well, that someday is here, Mr. Mayor.

In Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, the Steelers have their most explosive pair of starting wide receivers in team history. And with one tandem already in the Hall of Fame, and Hines Ward a strong possibility down the line, that's saying something.

"They've done a terrific job of developing their young receivers," Chiefs coach Todd Haley said. "When you have Ben back there and he's able to extend plays and keep things alive, and then you've got a couple of guys that can run 100 yards in what looks like under 10 seconds, that creates big issues. I think they are dangerous."

Opposing coaches thought Ward and Santonio Holmes were dangerous back in 2008, and they were — to a point.

Holmes, of course, caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl at the end of the season, but the two gained only 13.7 yards per catch. Through 13 games this season, Wallace and Brown are gaining 16.7 yards per catch. The Hall of Fame tandem of Lynn Swann and John Stallworth topped that number only once in a season where both receivers had 40 catches or more — in 1979, with a combined per-catch average of 17.9 yards.

That was a championship season for the Steelers, but, as Wallace explained, it was a different era.

"You could get deep in the old days because nobody could stop you," he said. "We've got the new-era cornerbacks and safeties, and 'The Kid' still is there."

Wallace has called himself "The Kid" since his childhood days in a tough New Orleans neighborhood. Not only was his home ripped apart by Hurricane Katrina, but one sibling was murdered, one was jailed, and another was injured in a shooting a few weeks before he was drafted by the Steelers. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians had to push hard for the team to draft Wallace in the third round in 2009.

Wallace might have been able run a sub-4.3 40-yard dash and vertical-jump 40 inches, but his ability as a receiver was so one-dimensional that PFW draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki dubbed him "a late draftable prospect/priority free agent." Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has supported Nawrocki to a degree over the years by calling Wallace "one-trick pony."

To read the rest of this profile on Steelers WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, purchase a copy of the current issue Pro Football Weekly online at the PFWstore.com. In this issue, you'll also have access to our exclusive injury rankings story, in which we determine the most hurt teams and the most healthy, plus we announce our 2011 All-Injury Team; our comprehensive fantasy football coverage; and our draft-related "Audibles" and "The Way We Hear It."