Key Matchup: Robert Mathis vs. Max Starks

Colts DE Robert Mathis is healthy and ready to wreak havoc on Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. Steelers RT Max Starks will be the man trying to prevent that from happening Sunday.

In the last Colts-Steelers contest in November, Pittsburgh offensive right tackle Max Starks gave up a sack to Colts defensive end Robert Mathis as the two battled primarily during passing down situations. On that play, Mathis, the Colts' pass rush specialist on the left end, used a nice inside move to beat Starks, who was overprotecting his edge.

That's what speed can do.

Mathis had an impressive 11.5 sacks in 13 games this season. He hasn't seen the field since Week 14 due to a foot injury. So coming into this divisional playoff game there's a bit of an uncertainty surrounding him. Is he fully recovered? Will he be able to use his speed to beat Starks again? The Colts training staff and Mathis say everything is fine and he is full-go. That is welcome news to Colts fans. Mathis is a high motor guy, who is relentless in his pursuit of the QB and features excellent closing speed.

He illustrates a solid lean and turns the corner about as well as any DE in the league. And he'll consistently win with his spin move, at minimum getting pressure on the quarterback. The key to slowing Mathis is to negate his speed with contact. Mathis' size and weight can be a disadvantage if opposing lineman are able to get their hands on him and can use their weight and leverage to dominate and control him at the line. He is not a quick shed player.

If drawing up a right tackle on paper Max Starks would have all the attributes you likely list; outstanding height, wingspan, size, base, and strength. Starks also has decent feet for a man his size, good lateral quickness, and does a nice job keeping his feet moving. He knows how to use his massive frame and solid punch to force defenders back.

Starks gets a solid push at the line and is a force in the run game. He uses excellent hand placement and his long arms to reach slanting defensive linemen and to latch onto opponents.

Starks will pop out of his stance too early from time to time. So the more Mathis' speed can help create sloppy technique, the greater his advantage will be. Starks has had problems with edge rushers like Mathis in the past, who gain pad level and make him turn his hips in order to sustain his block.

Hopefully, these are some things Mathis can exploit. How can the Colts ensure that that happens? By making sure Robert Mathis plays plenty of snaps on Sunday. That's accomplished by putting Pittsburgh in 3rd-and-long and 3rd-and-medium distance situations. If that's taking place consistently, that's a positive development for the men in blue and white.


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