Editor’s note: This is the second part in a series that spotlights three Raiders-Steelers matchups to watch Sunday, 1:05 p.m., at Oakland Coliseum.
Raiders RT Matt McCants vs. Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley Tale of the tape:
McCants (73): 6-foot-5, 309 pounds, first season, Alabama-Birmingham
Woodley (56): 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, seventh season, Michigan
The Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush is shockingly unproductive. Those adjectives don’t describe LaMarr Woodley.
The veteran outside linebacker has five sacks. All together, the Steelers have eight. Woodley has remains ferocious despite advancing age and negligible threats around him, totaling five sacks, five quarterback hits and 13 hurries.
According to Pro Football Focus, he ranks third in 3-4 edge rushing ability, impacting the quarterback on 15 percent of his pass rushes. Most pass-rushing outside linebackers will float around in search of exploitable matchups.
Not Woodley. The left side is all his.
Starting right tackle Tony Pashos is doubtful and assuredly out with a hip flexor injury, leaving Matt McCants responsible for slowing this freight train. That’s a major undertaking vital to the Raiders offensive success. With such lopsided pass-rushing numbers, Sunday’s edict is clear: Neutralize Woodley, and watch Terrelle Pryor work.
In a perfect world, the Raiders would pit Woodley against a veteran of great skill. Instead, they’ll rely on a first-year pro making his second career start. McCants is in sync after starting versus San Diego and playing most of an Oct. 13 loss at Kansas City.
“He’s gotten some experience,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said, “which will help him come Sunday.”
McCants has fared well playing for injured starter Tony Pashos. He’s allowed just two quarterback hurries on 65 passing plays despite heavy competition.
He handled Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston well before the bye, and he’ll have to do so again against another top-flight pass rusher.
“Woodley’s one of the best,” McCants said. “He’s got a combination of size and quickness you have to be ready for. You really have to prepare for a guy like that. You have to identify his tendencies and best moves and little hints on how to stop him, because he is a great player.”
McCants has confidence beyond his years. He trusts his talent, even against the NFL’s best.
“Stepping in and playing at this level wasn’t a big deal to me,” McCants said. “I don’t know why. I just wasn’t nervous or overwhelmed. I look at these starts as my opportunity to help the team win football games. I feel responsible to hold up my end of the bargain.”
McCants hasn’t been a Raider long. He was released by the New York Giants on Aug. 31, signed to the practice squad on Sept. 2 and promoted to the 53-man roster on Sept. 7. He’s adapted quickly, a fact he credits to the veterans around him.
“There are some great guys around here who are very willing to help,” McCants said. “That has made the transition easier. But I have to keep working and keep playing at a high level.”