By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Steelers host the Indianapolis Colts at 4:15 p.m. on Sunday at Heinz Field:
STEELERS NT CASEY HAMPTON VS. COLTS C JEFF SAURDAY: The Colts posted a bunch of double-digit win seasons and won a Super Bowl with an offense that was balanced enough that when Peyton Manning made a play-action fake opposing defenses had to respect it. This Colts team will show up here ranked last in the NFL in both rushing yards per game and yards per carry, and a significant factor in that has been the play of the offensive line. Starting guard Ryan Lilja remains on the physically unable to perform list, and Saturday missed the first two games of the season with a knee injury. Consequently, Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai have combined for about half as many yards as Clinton Portis has gained by himself, and what Hampton did to Redskins C Casey Rabach was a big part of the Steelers limiting Portis to 51 yards last Monday night. Saturday isn't 100 percent physically, but neither is Hampton, who has missed some time with a hamstring injury and some practice the last couple of weeks with a toe injury. This is the No. 1 run defense vs. the No. 32 run offense, and Hampton has a lot to do with the Steelers' ranking.
STEELERS ROLB JAMES HARISON VS. COLTS LT TONY UGOH: In the 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff Game, the Colts employed what is called a "molly protection," which calls for the guards to check for blitzing inside linebackers and then swing to the outside of the offensive tackles to pick up blitzing outside linebackers. Imagine what Harrison and LaMarr Woodley would do to that strategy, and if the Colts go with something more conventional it's going to fall on Ugoh to try to deal with Harrison. Duane Brown, Chris Samuels, Levi Jones, Tra Thomas and David Diehl all had some problems with that.
STEELERS Gs CHRIS KEMOEATU AND DARNELL STAPLETON VS. COLTS DTs KEYUNTA DAWSON AND ERIC FOSTER: The Indianapolis defensive line is the lightest in football, and consequently the defense is ranked in the bottom third in rushing yards allowed and average per carry. The Colts actually list Dawson at 254 pounds, and Foster is a 265-pound rookie. The Steelers haven't been running the football as effectively as usual, but injuries to Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall have been an issue there. This is the kind of game where running the football is the gift that keeps on giving because it will help your quarterback and keep their quarterback off the field.
STEELERS ILB JAMES FARRIOR VS. COLTS QB PEYTON MANNING: There is a lot of football knowledge inside these two helmets, and they'll both be trying to get their teammates in the right spots during those critical seconds before every snap. How much Manning is able to communicate at the line of scrimmage will have to do with the crowd at Heinz Field, and ironically Farrior is faced with the same situation. Manning needs no more platitudes thrown his way, but Farrior long has been an underrated player. He leads the team with 73 tackles, to go along with two sacks, four pressures and four passes defensed. Like a quarterback, whenever Farrior makes a play, it always seems to be a critical one.
STEELERS LT MAX STARKS VS. COLTS DE DWIGHT FREENEY: Marvel Smith's back spasms had kept him out of the games against the Bengals, Giants and Redskins, and he wasn't practicing early in the week leading up to this game. Max Starks has filled in, and because there hasn't been a lot of attention paid to that spot he must be holding his own. Before the Lisfranc injury that cost him the 2007 season, Freeney arguable was the best pass-rusher in football. Quick off the ball, fast and agile, Freeney was a tackle's nightmare, but so far in 2008 he's second on his own team in sacks to Robert Mathis, 5-3. The fact Freeney leads his team in pressures indicates he's close, but not quite all the way there. Since the Steelers will be the home team, Freeney won't have the noise advantage, and the game will be played on grass instead of the Colts' home turf. But discounting Freeney would be foolish, because great players can rise to the occasion.