For Raiders first year player Matt McCants, it's out of the frying pan and into the fire. He came into the Raiders last game against the Chiefs in the first quarter where he lined up against Justin Houston and the Chiefs top rated pass rush. Now he is set to make his second NFL start against the Steelers this Sunday.
The Steelers don't have a great pass rush overall but that hasn't stopped Lamarr Woodley from posting 5.0 sacks on the season. He leads the team by a wide margin. Three other players on the team have 1.0 sack each. And that's it.
The player who must block Woodley will have one of the more tough tasks Sunday. According to Pro Football Focus, Woodley is fourth in the NFL in pass rushing productivity and every one of his pressures has come from the left side of the defense. That's where McCants will be set up at right offensive tackle.
"Lamarr Woodley is a tremendous player. He's been in the league for a long time, doing it at a high level. Obviously when you go up against a guy of that caliber you want to take extra time in the film room and try to study his technique and try to figure out a way to ‘ok, how am I gonna match up and gonna attack him' so it's kind of like a chess game. You just try to find anything, any little thing that you can help you out, but like I said when you're going against a player of that caliber, you know you have to bring the wood, bring your lunch pail. You gotta come with it that day."
Thus far, McCants has "come with it". Despite the 10 sacks and 26 pressures against the Chiefs, McCants was responsible for just one pressure. That's it. Most of the pressures came up the middle, on the other side of the line, or on outside blitzes.
He had similar success in his previous start in a win over the Chargers. That week he graded out well in run blocking and the line overall allowed just one sack on Terrelle Pryor.
It is all the more impressive for McCants considered he was signed to the Raiders practice squad September 2, called up to the active roster five days later, and was starting less than a month into the season. It wasn't the Raiders plan, nor his, but injuries to Jared Veldheer, Menelik Watson, and Tony Pashos put the Raiders in desperate need of his services.
"It's what I signed up for, you know," said McCants. "It's the NFL. It's an opportunity to go out and play one of the best games in the world at the most elite level so I'm truly blessed. I don't take it for granted at all."
"It definitely wasn't a shock because I always, in my mind, I always wanted to prepare for the what if. So, my preparation and how I came at it every week... you never know, it's the next man up mentality so for me to get thrust into the game, it definitely wasn't a shock. I was just prepared for it."
Making things worse for McCants was the injuries to Stefen Wisniewski and Andre Gurode. That depleted the center position and forced Mike Brisiel to play the position which in turn had the team bring in undrafted rookie Lamar Mady -- who had just been called up from the practice squad himself -- to play right guard. It's hard enough for the new tackle to be thrust into the starting job but to then having such turmoil on the interior line.
This week the Raiders will get Wisniewski back in the lineup and Brisiel will move back to right guard. It is a weight off of McCants' mind.
"Definitely when you get somebody like Wiz back, it helps the line out," said McCants. "It kinda stables it back again so guys aren't playing different positions that they haven't been playing. It's kinda like we're more gelled so we're able to just focus on what we have to focus on which is schemes and stuff instead of worrying about ‘ok, I've never played this before, let me get adjustments' so it's been a big benefit."
The Raiders hung around with the undefeated Chiefs two weeks ago until their pass rush took over. It is clear that keeping Lamarr Woodley and the rest of the Steelers defense out of the Raiders' backfield is of utmost importance. Keep an eye on No. 73, McCants as the key to making that happen.