Why Was Mike Wallace Left Out of Miami Dolphins' Game Plan?

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer ISeptember 9, 2013

It's a curious thing for Miami Dolphins wide receiver Mike Wallace to be left almost completely out of the game plan for the team's Week 1 game against the Cleveland Browns

This is just five months and 26 days after the Dolphins signed him to a $60 million contract. Something tells me they didn't recently decide he's not worth the money, so what gives?

There were plenty of targets to go around, but most of them were absorbed by Dolphins wide receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson, with tight end Charles Clay getting in on the action as well.

How did Wallace feel about the game plan?

"I don't feel like talking about it," he said repeatedly when asked about it after the game, according to The Miami Herald. "Ask coach."

It's never good when a high-priced free-agent fails to make an impact, but it's even worse when that player seems disgruntled about his personal performance following a win—the team's first opening-day win since 2010, and only their second opening-day win in the past seven years.

Wallace's struggles on the stat sheet should come as little surprise if you know his recent history against the Browns. He was held to two catches for 20 yards in his past two meetings with the Browns, logging one reception in each game. He was once again held to just one catch, this time for 15 yards, against the Browns.

In the previous games, he spent much of the day covered by Browns cornerback Joe Haden. That trend would continue on Sunday.

If Wallace had paid attention to the words coming out of Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin's mouth earlier last week, he might have seen this coming.

It's very important as we put together the passing game. Obviously, the passing game again starts with protection number one. But then number two, what kind of pass concepts are you going to use, and number three, how are they going to match up to your formations, your personnel groupings and how we could potentially take advantage of that. It's a very big part of it. Obviously Haden is an excellent player.

The keys there are the Browns matching up to the Dolphins formations and personnel groupings, and also the bit about Haden being an excellent player.

With Haden covering Wallace, the Dolphins receiver was not targeted at all in the first half, and only five times in the entire game, according to the NFL official game book.

The Dolphins clearly knew they needed to try to get the ball into Wallace's hands after their offense struggled in the first half. They came out of the half and immediately went downfield to Wallace.

One problem: He was well-covered on the play by Haden, and safety T.J. Ward rolled to Wallace's side of the field to provide deep help.

In fact, that was the tune of the day nearly every time Wallace ran a pattern. When Wallace wasn't singled up by the ultra-talented Haden, he would be shadowed by a corner, with a linebacker helping out underneath or a safety helping out over the top.

On this 2nd-and-7 in the first quarter, for example, Wallace lined up in the slot and ran a deep post.

He was covered to the outside by safety Tashaun Gipson, and he was taken inside by linebacker Craig Robertson.

So, when he wasn't being singled up by one of the better corners in the game, he was being doubled wherever he went on the field.

Wallace's lack of targets should come as no surprise. Not only is Haden the best cornerback on the Browns roster and one of the better corners in the game, but there's a sizable drop-off from Haden to the other Browns cornerbacks: Buster Skrine, Leon McFadden and Chris Owens.

The Browns did what they needed to do in order to take him out of the game. It will be up to the Dolphins offense to make opponents pay by beating them other ways. 

That's exactly what the Dolphins did, instead targeting the receivers that were open.

One of the overriding principles of the West Coast offense is that there is no No. 1, 2 or 3 receiver. That is dictated by the progression, which changes on every play. There will be times, even, when the same play can have a different set of progressions.

The good news for Wallace and the Dolphins is that if Brian Hartline, Brandon Gibson and tight end Charles Clay continue to produce like they did against the Browns, future opponents won't be able to key in on Wallace and get away with it. They'll have to respect all of the Dolphins options, and that should open things up for Wallace.

He'll have to do a better job of getting away from single coverage, but he won't face many corners with Haden's skill level this season. When he does, he'll have to be patient. When he doesn't, he'll have to capitalize, or this could be the beginning of a frustrating season for Wallace.



Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.