DAVIE, Fla. – Mike Wallace is making $15 million in 2014 because he gives the Miami Dolphins a deep threat, which he showed with touchdown catches of 95, 82, 81, 60, 56, 54, 53, 52 and 51 yards during his first four NFL seasons with Pittsburgh.
But so far this year, Wallace and the Dolphins have yet to cash in on a long ball.
Wallace has six touchdown catches, but the longest was only 14 yards. Ryan Tannehill has thrown for 17 TDs, but the longest was a 21-yard pass to Rishard Matthews. That was the longest scoring play by the offense this season, reflecting a lack of big-play punch remarkable given Miami's success.
"It's pretty surprising," Wallace said Tuesday. "I'm definitely not used to that. But we are winning."
The Dolphins are 6-4 and averaging 24.9 points per game, which puts them on pace for their highest-scoring season since 1986, even though their offense ranks last in the NFL with only one touchdown covering 20 yards or more.
The Denver Broncos, who plays host to Miami on Sunday, happen to rank first in that category with 13 scores.
"Getting more explosive plays — we're trying, both run and pass," Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said.
The absence of quick-strike scoring is compounded by red-zone inefficiency. Miami ranks next to last in the league in red-zone scoring, averaging 4.1 points on possessions that reach the 20. Denver ranks first at 6.0 points, scoring a touchdown 77 percent of the time.
The Dolphins' persistent difficulty punching it in is magnified because they lead the league with 49 red-zone possessions, six more than any other team.
"Why have we had so many red-zone drives?" Lazor said. "Probably because we haven't had explosive plays that have scored from outside the red zone. It's easy math. The thing that's not easy is getting it fixed."
Wallace has often been open deep, but he fell out of bounds after making his longest reception this year, a 50-yarder. He declines to use the alibi that he and Tannehill have come close to connecting for a long-ball score.
"We've got to hit it," Wallace said. "I'm the guy y'all are going to talk to about this, but I'm not the only guy who can run deep patterns. Nobody has caught them, so we've got some work to do. Everybody."
Tannehill's well-documented inaccuracy on deep passes is one issue. On passes thrown more than 20 yards, he's 6 for 26 with two interceptions and no touchdowns. By contrast, Peyton Manning is 19 for 37 with no interceptions and eight touchdowns.
Another factor is leading rusher Lamar Miller's lack of elusiveness in the open field. He's averaging 4.9 yards per carry, but the longest of his 125 carries covered only 33 yards.
The good news is the quick-strike slump can end with one play.
"Sometimes on a run it's breaking multiple tackles," coach Joe Philbin said. "Sometimes it's connecting on deep passes or breaking an intermediate catch. I've been around places where slants have gone 70 yards for touchdowns. They haven't this year for us yet, but I'm sure we'll get our share."
"I always think they're coming," he said. "If you don't, it's going to be a long road."
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