Clausen completed 13 of 19 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown Sunday in a 19-12 win over the Arizona Cardinals. But the Pittsburgh Steelers defense poses a much more formidable challenge on Thursday night.
Based on video review by our Stats and Information group, the Steelers have more sacks from pass rushes of five-or-more defenders than any team in the NFL (22). The secondary blitz has been particularly useful against Pittsburgh's three previous NFC South opponents. In those contests, the Steelers have blitzed from the secondary against a quarterback dropping back to throw 15 times. Opponents are 4-for-13 against that blitz with an interception, two sacks, and only one first down.
Steelers Secondary Pressure
3 Games vs NFC South
This feeds directly into one of Clausen's areas of weakness. He's completed 45.8 percent of passes against defensive back pass pressure, fourth-worst among the 37 quarterbacks to make at least 20 throws against it and his 14 sacks in such situations are the most in the NFL.
What can Carolina do to keep this game competitive?
The Panthers will need to run the ball effectively. They've averaged 4.5 yards per carry against teams that play the 3-4 that the Steelers do. The problem is that the Steelers 3-4 defense leads the NFL, allowing only 2.6 yards per rush.
And if there's any thought that the Panthers might be able to throw the Steelers off with play-action passing, that's a longshot. Carolina hasn't been successful with that all season, ranking last in the NFL in play-action completion percentage, yards-per-pass attempt, dropbacks per sack, and passer rating.
This will be the sixth time in 12 games that Clausen has faced a top-10 rated defense this season, as he's seen the Saints twice, and the Bears, Browns and Falcons once each. In the previous five games, the Panthers have averaged 11.2 points and Clausen's passer rating has been below 70 four times. Those are numbers that would make you believe that a Carolina win would be among the biggest upsets of the NFL season.