I’ve seen a lot of Steelers fans that seem pretty worried about the loss of Steve McLendon with maybe the biggest game of the year coming on Thanksgiving night. I actually think if there was somewhere we could afford to be a man down, it’s at nose tackle.
I’m a big fan of the energy that McLendon provides on the field, but I also think that some of the problems in the run game this year could probably be attributed to the lack of a “true nose” in the middle to take up blockers.
Maybe I’m completely wrong here, because the Steelers roster lists McLendon at 320 and Woods at 307, but Woods appears to be the bigger man to me. Hebron Fangupo is definitely a nose tackle at a listed weight of 324 pounds.
I’ve personally wanted to see what Woods could do all season with more snaps. It wouldn’t be a bad backup plan if the team loses Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood in the off-season, to move McLendon over to DE and start Woods in the middle.
Woods really caught my eye earlier this year with a strong pre-season. In the four games he accumulated 15 tackles (12 being solo), and a sack. He looked great on Sunday as well, bringing down Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden twice (two more sacks than McLendon has on the season).
Ziggy Hood has also looked pretty solid in his last two starts. If Keisel returns on Thursday night we could see Ziggy get some snaps on the interior as well. He’s often been called one of the strongest (if not the strongest) player on the team.
Here’s something else to consider. For all the talk about stopping Ray Rice, who Coach Lebeau called “one of the best backs who ever played,” Steve McLendon only played 17 defensive snaps in the week 7 matchup against the Ravens, which was 27% of the defensive snaps.
That just shows that the Steelers felt confident they could stop the run out of their sub-packages (typically with Troy Polamalu playing ILB). In that game Rice only gained 45 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Maybe the Ravens work harder this time around the establish the run game, and we go to the base package more often. I still think Al Woods is well equipped to handle Ravens center, Gino Gradkowski. McLendon did toss Gradkowski around the field, in the limited snaps he saw against the Ravens last time.
Steeler nation has heard the Tomlin-ism “next man up” plenty, but I think that Woods can not just hold his own, but make an impact in the big division matchup on Thursday night.