The reason Carolina didn't finish higher: Jimmy Clausen
Carolina finished 15th in the NFL in pressures, 20th in the NFL in blockers per play and then a huge drop off to 32nd in sack % of pressure. PFF levels their sights on the Panthers rookie QB last year (following quote from two different articles):
Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of Jimmy Clausen was how cautious he could be, as if too concerned with throwing an interception. Now that's not to say he should be reckless with the ball, far from it, but at times you have to make difficult throws. In too many of these spots, Clausen would seem to throw the ball away or hold on to it too long, waiting for an easier option to show. Far too often it led to sacks, with Clausen himself taking direct responsibility for three of them. While the Mannings, Brees, and Freeman made their lines look better, the Panther QB did the exact opposite.
This is a pretty big condemnation of the Panthers' signal caller. It also helps illuminate one of the primary reasons the organization chose to roll the dice on Cam Newton, rather than wait to see if Clausen could develop.
More after the jump
It would be naive to think that Cam Newton wont get sacked also when he plays under center. Rookies get sacked, it's as simple as that... but I guarantee it wont be to the tune of over a quarter of all his pressures. Compare Clausen's 27.73% mark with Peyton Manning, who despite being pressured 28 more times on the season finished with a percentage of 7.52%.
So to sum up this whole situation simply: Carolina were a top 10 team in what percentage of their plays was a QB pressure, with pressure defined as a sack, hit or hurry. They did not allow their QB to be pressured very often, but when Jimmy Clausen was under pressure he folded like a house of cards.
Something tells me Cam wont fold quite so easily.