The Buccaneers are 1-3 heading into Sunday's game against the Chiefs. While it can be debated where the blame should be placed, Pewter Report's Mark Cook says the record reflects the performance of Bucs QB Josh Freeman. This week, Freeman and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan spoke about the first four games and where he may be headed.
Through four games the Tampa Bay Buccaneers currently sit in second place in the NFC South with a 1-3 record. Where they end up after 16 games will be based on several factors, but maybe none will have more of an impact on Tampa Bay’s final record than how quarterback Josh Freeman performs in the final 12 games.
So far, 2012 has been an up and down season for Freeman who has completed 65-of-119 passes for 790 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions. The former K-State star's quarterback rating is a very average 75.3, tying him with Seahawks' rookie Russell Wilson and ranking him one spot below rookie Andrew Luck.
On Thursday Freeman stood at the podium inside the media center at One Buccaneer Place answering questions from the local media including two from PewterReport.com about what he did during the bye-week to improve his game.
“We went back and looked at every single play,” Freeman said. “Every single cut up, from whether it was by protection or by coverage. Just did a pretty thorough self-evaluation, and some stuff was good some stuff was bad. You got to get more of the good and eliminate the bad. It is pretty black and white.”
PewterReport.com followed that answer up by asking Freeman what he saw specifically that he saw that needed improvement the most.
“It is just really a couple times that… it wasn’t really repeat things,” Freeman said. “It wasn’t like, ‘oh man I just can’t do this can’t do this, can’t do this.’ Just kind of like maybe the situation pops up or something pops up that doesn’t work out as well and there is a different way you could have gone about it, or you could have gone about it the same way, in a different way.
"It is kind of – I don’t know. It is just continually growing [and] learning from these experiences and throwing them in the memory bank and trying to get better.”
While Freeman’s responses to the questions didn’t answer everything readers and fans wanted to know, it did show Freeman is putting in the work, something that some fans have questioned.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan is seeing Freeman’s improvement, as recently as Wednesday in practice.
“I think we are headed in the right direction,” Sullivan said. “Something happened out at practice today with Josh (Freeman). As I have said before – and I will say again – his work ethic and his willingness to learn... he is putting so much time and effort into this and couldn’t be more pleased. As things are starting to come together, we had something come up today and as I was getting ready to make a correction on him he [says] ‘I got it’ and I love it. That’s what—he is developing that level of confidence and that’s what I want. I want him to say ‘I got it’ and he is getting to that point.
“You talk about the time that it takes I think in just as much interaction as we have had while there is no substitute for seasons and years and years and years, I think his personality is one that is so receptive to coaching and he wants to do so well. He is easy to communicate with. I think we are heading in the right direction. It was a little flash of that today and he had a heck of a day today. I am excited about him on Sunday.”
Freeman went on to talk about one aspect of his game that has improved this season over last – the deep ball.
“Honestly, I have always felt like that’s been a strength of mine,” Freeman said. “All the way through college and then you get in the league and I’ve hit deep balls over the years. You talk about some of those deep bombs to Rejus (Benn) or Mike (Williams).
“I remember my rookie year, we didn’t really– they weren’t really calling a whole lot of shots. We called a few, we hit a few, Antonio Bryant was banged up and we had Michael Clayton, but it was more about working underneath zones rather than trying to stretch the defense.
“I definitely feel like the deep ball is something that, you get back and assess the coverage. It’s something that, when it’s there, I feel like I can make it happen, especially now with Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, the way those guys are playing and then you turn it over to the flip side and there are also speed threats in Tiquan Underwood and Arrelious (Benn). We have a lot of players that can go get it.”
Sullivan agreed that Freeman’s deep ball can be a weapon.
We have a quarterback that can throw the deep ball and we got a couple receivers that can run on the deep ball,” Sullivan said. “That may warrant us being a little inclined to take those shots.
“Those are things that as you take a look at those first four games and evaluating what we can do better and how we can find that balance, I think as long as we have that ability to make the big plays down the field and also have some consistency in the passing game—that is going to help the run game. I think it really comes down to ultimately how we are being played. If teams are going to continue to be in a situation where they are putting extra defenders inside and playing a lot of man coverage in [then] we are going to have to do some things to soften them up to which in turn will allow us to run the ball more. It is ongoing.”
While Freeman has shown flashes of potential, consistency has been lacking, something both Freeman and Sullivan acknowledge. Is it Freeman? Is the play-calling? A combination of both?
The next 12 weeks should answer a lot of questions with one being will the Buccaneers begin exploring options at that position with a mediocre season from their signal-caller?
Like the engineer who drives the train – the Buccaneers will go as Freeman goes. No better – no worse – the record will reflect how the captain and leader of the offense produces down the final 12-game stretch.
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