Head to head: Panthers QB Jimmy Clausen vs. Steelers LB James Farrior
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Since becoming the starting quarterback for the National Football League's worst team, rookie Jimmy Clausen has thrown seven interceptions in 243 attempts, averages just 5.4 yards per attempt and has the league's lowest passer rating (59.1). What's more, he has only 13 completions of 20 yards or longer, fewest in the NFL.
Now for the really bad news?
He has to face the Steelers after a loss.
Clausen, a second-round draft choice from Notre Dame, threw his first two touchdown passes of the season in Carolina's 19-12 victory Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals -- his first victory in the NFL. It was a modest but positive step for a player who had already thrown two interceptions for touchdowns in his previous seven starts.
But, tonight at Heinz Field, he will have to face a Steelers rush defense that, despite being the best in the league, is feeling slightly embarrassed and more than just a little honked off after the way it performed against the New York Jets.
That might not be good news for a rookie quarterback who has been able to lean on his running game to help him through his development.
"I like to think that way, but you never know what's going to happen," said inside linebacker James Farrior.
"I know they have two good running backs and the quarterback is young, and they're going to try to not put too much on his plate. It sounds good for us, but we still got to go out and execute."
The Steelers have been able to bounce back from each of their previous three defeats this season, beating the next opponent by a combined score of 90-34. But, in one of those instances where they were facing a rookie quarterback after a loss, Colt McCoy of the Cleveland Browns looked more like a seasoned veteran than a player making his first start in the NFL, passing for 281 yards and a touchdown.
Clausen likely will need a similar performance against the Steelers.
The Panthers have averaged 152 yards rushing in their past six games, mainly relying on Jonathan Stewart (460 yards in his past four games) as the workhorse. But it will be the Steelers' intent to shut down the run and force a rookie quarterback to solve Dick LeBeau's defense to beat them.
"Everyone knows that comes first and foremost for us -- shutting down the run and making teams one-dimensional where we can do our blitzes," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "These running backs are good. This offensive line is good. If we're as good as we say we are, we need to go out and prove it."
The Steelers don't think they did that in their 22-17 loss to the Jets, even though no back gained more than 49 yards and the longest run against them was 11 yards.
The Jets finished with 106 yards rushing on 27 attempts, which, against the Steelers, seemed like 250 yards. It was the most rushing yards allowed by the Steelers this season and 43 yards more than their league-leading average.
Forget running backs gaining 100 yards against the Steelers, something only one player (Baltimore's Ray Rice) has done in the past 48 games. Only two teams have rushed for more than 100 yards against them this season.
"That's a big challenge for our defense; that's what we love to try to stop," Farrior said.
A closer look at the game within the game
First Published December 23, 2010 12:00 am