Key Matchup: Jeff Saturday vs. Casey Hampton

Greg Talmage takes a look at Colts center Jeff Saturday and Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton -- and why their matchup will have a huge influence on the outcome of this Sunday's game.

Casey Hampton fits the prototype of what is required from a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. He can occupy two blockers consistently, which makes a huge difference in helping his defense stop the run. Because as long as the nose tackle can clog the middle and allow the linebackers to fly around, the 3-4 can wreak havoc. The 330-pound Hampton usually requires the attention of both a center and a guard, thus allowing Steelers inside linebackers Larry Foote and James Farrior the freedom to pursue ballcarriers.

Hampton eats space like it's a buffet. Combine that with the fact that he commands a double-team on almost every play and that really gums things up in the middle. He doesn't shed blocks well, so he rarely will make a tackle or get a sack. However, that's not a real negative because Hampton's ability to take on double-teams leaves better pass rushers like defensive ends Kimo von Oelhoffen and Aaron Smith and outside linebackers Jerry Porter and Clark Haggans in one-on-one situations. That's why Hampton is also an essential part of their pass defense.

This February, Colts center Jeff Saturday will finally be making his first and much-deserved trip to Honolulu for the 2006 Pro Bowl. The selection marks quite an accomplishment for an undrafted free-agent, who many scouts didn't think would ever amount to much of a pro football player. Thankfully, Bill Polian and offensive line Coach Howard Mudd thought differently.

Saturday is an extremely smart lineman and excellent leader. He handles all of Peyton Manning's pre-snap adjustments at the line with precision, and quickly gets his line mates in their proper blocking schemes and assignments. He shows solid snap-to-set quickness, excellent vision and awareness -- especially in pass protection. He is also patient and effective against double moves when pass protecting.

Hampton will require plenty of double-teams from Saturday and an offensive guard throughout the game, but Indianapolis has enough faith in Saturday's ability to "hold his own" against the 330-pounder that they will leave him to work one-on-one on some pass calls. When this happens, watch this match-up closely. If Saturday is having success handling Hampton one-on-one early, that's a big advantage for the Colts. And he'll likely be put into that situation more often as the game progresses.

In the running game, Saturday takes smart angles. And when left uncovered, he'll use his quickness to get up and through to the second level to chip linebackers. However, he doesn't have the strength to overpower many opposing defensive linemen. But he knows how to use his brain and work ethic to win most trench battles.

Hampton is slow. The key is to get the big guy moving laterally. So expect to see quite a few stretch runs and pulling Colts guards getting upfield. This key match-up will likely dictate the success of the Colts running game on Sunday.

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