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October 26, 2011 @ 1:30 pm
Current rating: 3.50 Stars/2 Votes

Bucs Uncover Reasons For Freeman's Struggles

Written by Eric
Eric Horchy


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Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman's inconsistent and mistake-prone first half of the 2011 campaign was addressed following Wednesday's bye-week practice at One Buccanneer Place.

Coming off a lackluster four-interception performance this past Sunday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman briefly spoke with the media Wednesday afternoon after practice about what went wrong in London.

“It was a game that we feel like we went out and could have won,” he said. “Even at the end we had a chance, but stuff early on happened and got us in a bit of a deficit. Our defense stepped up and played a great fourth quarter [and] gave us the ball back. When we finally got things rolling it was a little late.”

What ultimately derailed the Bucs as they were rolling toward potential victory was the fourth and final interception of Freeman’s erratic day throwing the football. It was the third time this season he has had a multi-pick game after having only one last year. That came on Week 9 in Atlanta when he threw two of his six giveaways of the season.

With the team on its bye week, Freeman’s touchdown-to-interception ratio stands at 7-10. That puts him on pace to throw 16 scores to almost 23 picks – drastically different from last year’s breakout 25-6 mark.

In speaking with Freeman, head coach Raheem Morris and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, the Bucs feel they have identified two areas that need to be addressed heading into the season’s second half – Freeman throwing off his back foot and an inability to scramble for yardage or keep plays alive.

Rather than stepping up in the pocket as it forms around him, Freeman has at times been backpedaling out and then not stepping into throws. That’s a tendency that can quickly form into a habit during games in the face of adversity, Van Pelt said.

“That’s human nature. That’s just the body protecting itself. When you get rattled early as a quarterback sometimes your feet get a little bit off. So it is just constantly reminding him during the course of the game to plant that back foot. But yes, it has shown up a few times.”

In the instances Freeman has decided to escape the pocket this season, he has begun to tuck the ball and run less frequently and is finding less open space to maneuver. Freeman’s averaging four rushes per game (28 total) for 3.9 yards an attempt (108 total). The 6-foot-6, 248-pound quarterback ran slightly more last season, averaging 4.25 attempts per game and averaging 5.4 yards a carry. But in the last three games combined, Freeman has recorded only five rushing attempts for five yards. He did not venture across the line of scrimmage at all last Sunday against Chicago.

“They’re running some stunts and different things underneath that really take away the rush lanes for the quarterback,” Freeman said. “Also they’ve spied me a little bit and it’s by design and that’s how the league is. You do something successfully and the defense is going to start to do stuff to take it away.”

“I’m not the fastest guy in the world,” he continued. “If I have an open running lane then I’m going to run the ball. I’ve not had a chance to get out. The one time I tried to scramble versus the Bears I got run down by an end and ended up having to throw it away. It’s a part that if it’s there to do and we can do something with it, then I am going to do it. But the lanes just haven’t been there.”

Through seven weeks, the combination of both technical aspects mixed in with Freeman’s aggressive/forced decision-making has contributed to a higher interception total.

“Last year he simply did a better job of going through his progressions throughout the whole process,” Morris said when asked about whether Freeman has been overaggressive. “Right now he’s probably playing his number in fantasy football because he’s trying to throw touchdowns. Sometimes it’s okay to throw to check-downs; sometimes it’s okay to go through your progressions. Right now he has a little too much confidence in what he’s doing with his arm and forcing some things in there.

“We’re in a game and we threw four interceptions. If we don’t throw some of those interceptions we’ve got a chance to win it. He’s not one of those guys that’s more concerned about himself than winning.”

While the turnovers through the air continue to be detrimental to Tampa Bay’s overall success this season, Van Pelt said he feels it’s an attribute to have a quarterback that’s confident he can make any number of throws. To limit the mistakes in the second half, it’s going to be a matter of Freeman picking his spots more carefully.

“If we don’t turn the ball over we are going to put ourselves in great position to win,” Van Pelt said. “He has to really get back into that mindset. The thing that makes him great, his competitiveness, is the fact that he thinks he can make all those throws, which is why you love him. Ultimately his goal is to not turn the ball over and put us in position to win games at the end. We will get back on track there.”

Freeman acknowledged that tackling the interception concerns is high on his priority list during the bye week as Tampa Bay rests up and prepares for the New Orleans Saints.

“I’m trying to strike a dagger in the defense and more often than not this year it has kind of backfired,” he said. “We are going to go back and self-scout the entire season. Go back and look at the interceptions. We were watching them all today – watching and seeing what’s happened. Ultimately you look at it [and] we’ve turned the ball over in the red zone. That’s something that’s really uncharacteristic of our offense and uncharacteristic of me. If we can do that (not turn ball over in red zone) you are looking at a team that is 5-2 if not 6-1 right now.”

But the Bucs aren’t 6-1 or 5-2. They’re 4-3 and seeking consistency from week to week as a battered roster licks its wounds. From Morris’ optimistic perspective, though, Tampa Bay is still above .500 and only one game behind the NFC South-leading Saints.

“When you talk about Josh Freeman, you’ve got to talk about how many wins you have and how many losses you have,” Morris said. “Right now Josh Freeman is a four-win quarterback and we just talked about that being third-best in the National Football League.

“Not playing your best football in the first half and coming out of this thing 4-3, you feel really good about that as a coach. It's kind of a sigh of relief. Now I know we don't feel good about the last loss because we had a chance to win it and it could be even better. We could talking even more stuff right now but we're not. We are what we are and we can't wait to attack the next half of this football season.”

– Victoria Horchak and Scott Reynolds contributed to this report

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 14:27

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  • avatar

    The reason other teams are using spies on Freeman is that they have figured out that he does not look off his receivers. I don't buy that Freeman is confident. He looks very tentative, especially at the start of games, which results in missing wide open receivers, and falling into the habit of throwing to his favorite receivers whether they are covered or not. He needs to spread the ball around to all his receivers, be accurate in his throws, go through his progression quickly to find the open receiver, look off the receiver so the defense goes away from him, and then zip that ball there with his outstanding arm. But when you have countless penalties chopping up the game, you are down to a third string back who doesn't get you into short yardage on third down, your receivers are not getting open and then dropping the ball when thrown to, all that can throw off any QB, not to mention the pressure he was getting and bad blocking on third downs against the Bears, one can understand why Free lost his confidence against Chicago. We know he is a great QB, and I have not lost confidence in him or our Bucs.
  • avatar

    Freeman's first int was Williams fault and the other 3 were Mark Dominiks fault for thinking the NFL is Madden and you can turn injuries off. Did it not cross his mind once that BLount might get banged up at some point. Its a pretty common occurrence in the NFL... Why in the world would he think Lumpkin who couldn't make the Packers team, who have horrible RBs, would be a solid back up.. Once Graham went down they ran the ball 8 times for 15 yards. Lumpkin should have been cut as he walked back to the sideline after he laid down like a coward in front of Peppers. Its one thing for a QB to go down but Come on Man.. You are a RB in the NFL, step your game up or quit... who cares if he got hurt, Preston Parker played RB half the time at FSU and I am sure he could manage 1.8 yards a carry. Freeman like every other QB except Rodgers needs a solid running game. He will be back on top soon enough once he stops looking over his shoulder at Cam Newton's performances and trying to compete with his numbers. People forget these guys have egos and Freeman was the big dog last season and the media loved him, this year its Cam and I think that has chipped away at his ego a little so he is forcing things way too much...
  • avatar

    "Gunslingers" don't make it huh you mean like Moon,Elway, Fouts, Favre, Peyton and Marino ok bud whatever. I for one have not been impressed with Freeman this yr he looks like he has regressed from last yr but lets keep things in perspective this kid is in his third yr he is not working with receivers that don't really get open and every qb has these kinds of yrs ala Phillip Rivers when this happens you watch tape you work on your mentals and feet and you over come it I have seen it with Elway when he was throwing more picks then td's or Moon, so its not the end of the world Josh will fix it and get better as a qb. You just don't have the yr he had last yr and not have the talent to play in this league. Eli Manning threw 26 picks last yr and he is a top ten qb.
  • avatar

    hes 23....hes still learning. PERIOD.
  • avatar

    josh hasnt been the cool calm collected josh that were used to this year. im sure his teammates have noticed
  • avatar

    Most everyone on this site, and others, have been saying he's throwing off his back foot....even on good throws. That's the biggest difference from last year. Last year, and even this year (picks aside), Freeman does best when we spread out the offense and go hurry up. There is just something that click inside of him. I know we are a run team, but you could suprise a defense in the first half of a game to come out slinging it for 2 quarters. Just sayin'.
  • avatar

    "Gunslingers like Favre don't make it in the NFL" Wow, let me write that down as perhaps the dumbest thing I ever read on this board. "Eventually it bites them in the butt". Eventually our bodies won't do what our mind thinks it can but throwing nothing but check-downs will put you on your butt.........on the bench and eventually out of the league. A QB can't play scared but he does have to play smart and technically sound. He also needs to tell Winslow to shut up and will throw it to him when he's not covered high and low in a box.
  • avatar

    wow so it took them 7 weeks to figure out Freeman needs to stop throwing off his back foot? I said that week 2 lol
  • avatar

    Those are two really important factors in why he is struggling as a passer. I have a hard time believing this is something new to them as he has been throwing off his back foot and really pressing his luck to thread the needle all season. My biggest concern is the habit he has developed of staring down his primary target before the ball has even been snapped. One of the traits you see in common with all the truly elite QB's is their ability to look off a defender. He hasn't shown that ability yet. Even worse, I think he has regressed in it. You always expect it a bit with younger QB's, but I don't remember it being this bad last year.
  • avatar

    I disagree Buddah. Freeman is trying to play behind a really bad offensive line. Fain is always hurt, Zuttah and Trueblood are immobile slugs who have glacier like movement. It didn't take D-coordinators long to figure out that if you put a speed rusher against False Start Trueblood on passing downs they can run around him or draw a holding penalty..Like you mentioned Williams has dropped a lot of balls this year and the first interception in the Bears game was his fault, the ball hit him in the hands ,chest high, he catches it, TD. Nothing can really be done until the Bucs get a center who can play an entire season, a left guard and a right tackle.
  • avatar

    Again Josh is a break down the defense type QB he makes big plays when he moves his feet, not out of the pocket unless the blocking is good , if its not a quick slant Josh needs time.Whenwas the last time you saw him hit a seem pass to k2 ( never) not his game.Now if you remove the roll out he is gonna regress ,as he has to learn to pass and read from the pocket. His coaches r dead wrong in what they have done with him this year and the bozos r still trying to force it.Josh may be 6 6" but he is not Peytonl.Josh does have good top end speed and constantly is declining to take rushing yards( 2nd n nfl last year) Hello! Dummies! he needs to take the 5 to 15 yards 4 to five times a game and that will equate to 3 to 4 additional first downs. I never saw him run down last year and now this staff has convinced him he isnt an effective scrambler( 2nd best in the nf)l. Nnow the big one no matter what! his weight must stay below 250, he appears to be keeping it in check but if it starts to creep up all bets are off ,everything will be amiss and this regression will never stop. remember his natural weight may be 260 to 270 at 26 yrs old and i assure he will not be a starter. weight may become his biggest challenge of all. Look at Steve Smith his rec avg is prob at a career high because Cam breaks down the def, if they make him stay in the pocket s smith wouldnt have 10 catches this year.Josh aint Cam but he isnt Brees either Dam It quit trying to make him Brees, Brady ,Peyton etc he is more like big Ben a play extender Wake Up Rah! btw Van Pelt was a Pocket Passer
  • avatar

    Tampa does not have a Patriots O-line, but they have not been terrible. They did not play will against Chicago, but they were missing Faine and the Bears stacked the box a number of times. Trublood had is first two penaties this year against the Bears and I don't remember him having any last year. He has improved greatly in that area. Truebood has also played very well this year until last week, but the Bears have a very good defense. Freeman still had three intercepcions that were is fault. I am not bashing Freeman, but he did not play that well. The first quarter, he was terrible. He improved, but still had some bad throws including a couple of bad turnovers. Had Talib nit screwed up, Tampa may have enough time to run the last drive with a little less pressure to force the ball. Freeman did well on that drive untill the clock hit 30 seconds or less. Talib burned enough time by allowing Chicago to get three more plays. Barber also had a bad holding penalty that allowed Chicago to score. We also lost Grahm in Blounts absence that hurt our play action game that Tampa heavily depends on. When your passing every play, it is much easier for the the Bears defense to make great plays as they did. Our lack of a running game was our biggest problem.
  • avatar

    Horse how many back up centers and back up tight ends do we need? You have Faine, his back up is Zuttah. You have a third for EMERGENCY. Just so happens thats the area hit. Tight Ends we have two young guys who need to develop. Stocker is going to be a stud, but only if he plays. Gilmore was nothing more than an over glorified extra guard who had hands. You lose nothing, except that Tight End has been hit hard too like Center and Running Back this year. Now RB, Ill give anyone that. They went in too thin in that dept. Every team has three backs that CAN PLAY. We only went into the season with two. The rest are maybes, or in this case, we found out, can nots.
  • avatar

    niko521, Zuttah is our starting Left Guard and that is where he plays best. He should not be the back up Center when the starting Center goes down. He should be the 3rd Center. Now you have a new Center and a new Left Guard and that is an execution problem due to the lack of practice between the new Center and Guard and the rest of the Offense. I have complained about this since preseason. The TE problem is exactly what you said? We have two young TE's, unfortuately with one injury laiden TE that requires him and the rest of the team to practice at a reduce speed.
  • avatar

    Reality check. I said it before the season and I'll say it again. We are not a playoff team. Take a deep breathe. This doesn't mean I'm down on the team. I like these coaches and the talent, though young, is above average for the NFL. Even after a terrible preseason, i expressed my confidence that the offensive line was the strongest unit on the team and I stand by that. The defense would be solid if we had better linebackers as a unit. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season--to watching the team's development, but I'm a realist. We're not likely to beat New Orleans at their house or the Packers at theirs and the games against Houston and Dallas at home are going to be very challenging, and Carolina is much better than folks thought. We don't have any giimmes on the schedule. The diagnosis of Freeman's problems seems on target, but it's human nature for him to have taken too much on his own shoulders. The guy has one of the best arms I've seen since Bradshaw and he exudes natural talent. But he's still learning the game, which takes patience. I strongly believe another off season and OTAs will jettison him forward, but we're pretty well stuck this year. The only thing that could change the season is a new plan of attack or if Blount comes back at full speed. We need 130-160 rushing yards a game to win. The offensive line can make that happen providing there's a running back to make the yardage. My biggest disappointment is not in Freeman. He'll be fine in the long run. I'm not so sure, though, about the receiving corps. Mike Williams is headed in the wrong direction. Benn has caught two bombs and done nothing else. The tight ends have been mediocre. We've been outyarded in almost every game. Lots of worries, but I'm a fan. When you compare what Morris has done to some of the other coaches with which he started, you have to be impressed. Would you like to be the St. Louis Rams? Also, has anyone noticed how poorly teams have done this year coming off a bye?
  • avatar

    buddah, agree with you. I believe that a tear in a ligament (even a slight one) is a six week healing process for a ground pounder. I hope we do not bring him back to early.
  • avatar

    I've always liked Josh, still do, but he has always been a bit inconsistent. I have not bought into Josh on the verge of elite as most columnists wrote at the beginning of the season. I sure hope he can become elite but Josh saying you eliminate a couple of pics and the team is 5- 2 or 6-1 is a lot easier to say than it is to do. This offense looks inconsistent way too often. They have a few successful drives per game and the rest suck big time, either due to penalities or just overall bad play. As Bill always says, You Are What Your Record Says You Are. Make us believe Josh.
  • avatar

    Hmm...it took this long for the coaches to notice that Freeman was throwing off his back foot. A lot of fans were saying this since the preseason.
  • avatar

    The Favre comment was well said. He cannot be a gunslinger. Gunslingers don't make it in the NFL. Pretty soon it bites them in the butt.
  • avatar

    Horse, the 5 days off is mandated by the new CBA. It's not on the board now, but if you go to the archives (more), Scott posted an explanation earlier today titled "Explaining the Bucs' 5 days off During the Bye Week" regarding the new rule.
  • avatar

    macabee, thank you for the up date. I hope we come back in five days with some real hard focus on practice, practice, practice. It's obvious that this young team suffered without OTA's, weightroom and individual spring/summer coaching.
  • avatar

    Well, I for one and really excited about what I read in this article. The two things Morris and Van Pelt keyed on as areas of improvement are the two things my buddies and I figured out during the Bears game. I keyed in about him throwing off his back foot for most of the game (it particularly hurts him when throwing to his left) and my buddy pointed out that Freeman never scrambles anymore. I know everyone is still pissed about the loss (myself included) but I think all of our coaches know what they're doing. With one exception. I think the jury is still out on Olsen. Sometimes he has a brilliant game plan and sometimes it's just awful. He seems less consistent to me than Morris as a play caller.
  • avatar

    All I am reading is excuses and should have beens. We are 4/3; that's what we are so I don't buy all the other stuff their feeding us. I am concerned about Josh's psyche because he is starting to sound like he is not exactly sure why he is not reacting the way he did last year; that's a problem to me. I believe that Dominick and Morris should take more of a hit here and convince their team that they are also part of the problem and have to do a much better job in preparation and adjustments early in the game. What we were last year was a surprise for some teams; now there are no surprises. Why we did not focus more on RB's and a real back up Center is beyond me. Why we did not keep Gilmore is beyond me. Why did we keep Lorig and Lee? Both did zero in pre-season games. We're starting to look more like an 8/8 team or worse. I know we can turn this around. I am not sure why the players are taking 5 days off though. Seriously they have had it very easy these past two weeks. At least bring them in and lets practice lightly and go through some walk thru's using various situations. Isn't that also part of a bye week?
  • avatar

    What gets me is that the one thing they don't mention is the one thing that even those moronic commentators on TV noticed: He locks on to a receiver and looks at them the whole way. Everyone in the world knows where he is throwing to. Yes, he is holding on to the ball too long and not making quick decisions. That hesiation allows defenders to get in place to intercept. As far as scrambling goes, last year he was one of the most accurate passers I have ever seen when he was out of the pocket. Not to make excuses for him, after all I've been his biggest critic this year, but not spending time with Olson because of the lockout really hurt his develpment. Last year he took a giant step forward. As a result of the lockout he has not been cued into defensive schemes and he seems lost and hesitant much of the time. As a result his balls tend to sail or he throws behind recievers. All this is true, but someone needs to teach him how to look off defenders or multi-interception games will become the norm as defenses catch on to his weakness.
  • avatar

    Morris, you really believe that? He's trying to throw touchdowns? The only time he seems to be trying to throw touchdowns is when they are at the 7 yard line and Winslow is at the 2 yard line. As to him not running because there weren't lanes or spies I'll defer to all the other board members who have dvrs but it sure looks like there were a few times where running lanes appeared on Sunday where he held onto the ball.
  • avatar

    Frreman needs to look at the back of his jersey and see that it does not say Favre!
  • avatar

    Good figure it out and fix it.
  • avatar

    "Right now he has a little too much confidence in what he’s doing with his arm and forcing some things in there.“ RIGHT!! "I’m trying to strike a dagger in the defense and more often than not this year it has kind of backfired,” he said. FINALLY, INSIGHT!! He will be alright now.
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