Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Giants matchups to watch Sunday, 10 a.m., at the MetLife Stadium
[MATCHUP NO. 3: Streater vs. McBride]
Raiders RT Menelik Watson vs. Giants LDE Justin Tuck
Tale of the tape:
Watson (71): 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, rookie season, Florida State
Tuck (91): 6-foot-5, 268 pounds, ninth season, Notre Dame
Raiders right tackle Menelik Watson will make his first NFL start on Sunday against the New York Giants’ menacing defensive front.
So much for a soft opening.
The rookie second-round pick will be matched up against sackman Justin Tuck, a savvy veteran with size and speed. Others will certainly rotate in as the Giants try to wear down this phenom with vast potential and minimal experience.
Watson understands the magnitude of the moment, which comes on the road against some of the very best. He also understands the Raiders’ season stands at a crossroads, where a loss Sunday at MetLife Stadium could push them out of contention for good.
And with practice-squad tackle Jack Cornell expected to be the lone reserve, Watson knows he must stay healthy.
That’s a lot of weight on young shoulders, but Watson doesn’t feel the burden.
“It’s a big moment getting your first NFL start,” Watson said. “It will be huge, especially considering the game is in New York, and against the talented front they have over there. It’s going to be a great challenge.
“Right now, with where we’re at in the season and in the standings, every game is crucial. That’s the important thing now. As far as a personal milestone, it’s big. But I won’t think much about it until after the game.”
Watson has bigger concerns. While the Giants front is low on sacks this season, pedigree and renewed health forecasts a surge. Tuck has just 1 ½ this season, but he’s hit double-digit sacks three times in his career. And, with the left side’s hands full with a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul, Watson must handle Tuck without much help.
He didn’t need much last week in a solid NFL debut, allowing just four quarterback hurries in 57 snaps.
That’s impressive considering Watson can still count professional practices on his hands and feet. He missed most all of training camp with a calf strain, the early season with a torn lateral meniscus in his knee and subsequent weeks with another calf problem. Watson kept his nose in the playbook and was mentally ready when he was physically able to use his athleticism. That effort put him in position to succeed.
“For as big as he is, he’s a great athlete,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “He’s got good power. Fundamentally, he’s got to continue to work to improve. That’s probably the biggest area he needs to work to improve on because he hadn’t got a lot of experience. He’s been here. He’s been paying attention in the meetings and gone through the mental process; he just hadn’t had the reps. This is the National Football League -- if you’re called upon to go in there to play, you have to go in and perform.”
Watson hasn’t had much opportunity to perform at any level. The Englishman didn’t take up the sport until 2011. He spent a year at Saddleback Junior College and another a Florida State before turning pro.
“When I first got involved in football, all I did was study, study, study,” Watson said. “I didn’t know much about the sport two years ago, so I had to be relentless with my homework. I have to be critical and learn how to analyze my own play. I had to learn quickly, by watching others. I think that’s helped me adapt at every level.”
Watson does have experience protecting a mobile quarterback. He did so for E.J. Manuel last year at Florida State, and has no problem with protecting Terrelle Pryor.
“I’ve always learned to block until my guy quits or until the ball is gone,” Watson said. “We have to keep active against these guys and not give them second opportunities, because you never know where Terrelle’s going to be.”