The Buccaneer offense started the season off slow, but since the bye week has become one of the most explosive offenses in the league, ranked seventh in the NFL in points scored with the highest average in franchise history, 34 points per game.
In the month of October, when Tampa Bay went 2-1, the Bucs led the league in points per game and yards per game and Josh Freeman led all QBs in yards per game. Over the course of the last four games the fourth-year quarterback has thrown for 1,257 yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception and finished all four contests with a QB rating over 100.
Compared to the first four games of the season when Freeman passed for 790 yards, five touchdowns and threw four picks, it looks like the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time.
The former first round draft pick said earlier in the season that the offense was trying to find their rhythm. Looking at the Buccaneer offense on paper and film, it seems they have definitely found it.
The Bucs’ fourth-year signal caller says he is comfortable in the system and trusts the protection his offensive line has been giving him.
“Yeah, I think it’s both,” Freeman said. “I think it’s element, everything. You talk about stepping into a new offense, different things - learning the terminology, seeing the plays, visualizing the coverages and going out and trying to make plays. But the more and more you work with it the more and more you get to know the offense, you become more comfortable and you can drop back and be more fluid. Like you said, I don’t care what front five are up there, those are my guys and I know they’re going to go out and protect and they’ve done an awesome job.”
Halfway through the 2012 season, the former Kansas State Wildcat is on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns with 10 touchdowns. If the productivity continues, it will be Freeman’s best yet.
Tampa Bay added weapons in the off-season in wideout Vincent Jackson, tight end Dallas Clark, and drafting Doug Martin, which have led people to assume the arsenal, not the man pulling the trigger, should be given credit for the offensive turnaround, but head coach Greg Schiano believes the targets Freeman has been provided have helped, but his QB is largely responsible for his own success.
“Well, I think most of it is Josh,” Schiano said. “The weapons around him are great, the mechanics fixing, but he has to do all the work. This guy has worked from the day we got hired. We had to hold him off with the rules being what they are. This guy has just wanted to do everything he possibly could to become the quarterback that he sees himself as. He is not where he wants to be. He is not where we want to be. Not even close because his upside is like way up here. If he keeps working the way he is, he is going to get there. That’s, as a leader on our team, that is critical. You say all you want as a leader.
“Talk is cheap. What are you doing? What are your actions? This guy’s actions back up what he is asking everybody else to do. Long as he keeps doing that, the mechanics will continue to get better. His reads will get better. His comfort with the offense will get better. All those things.”
Last season, Freeman threw for a career-best 3,592 yards, but threw six more interceptions than touchdowns. The Kansas City native seems to be playing with better mechanics, definitive decision making, and looks comfortable in the pocket. Freeman acknowledges that certain elements have changed, mainly due to the maturation process.
“Yeah, I’ve felt – I think it’s part of the growing up process – more mature,” Freeman said, “More in control of whether it’s emotions as far as going out and feeling the urgency to go out and make something big happen rather than just letting it happen, letting the defense give it to you. And yeah, there’s going to be plays that you have an opportunity for a shot and you take it. You know I have a lot of confidence in the guys in the outside to go out there and make those plays. But no, it’s definitely different from last year as far as growing as a quarterback.
“It’s really just pocket presence – stepping up and keeping two hands tight on the ball, things of that nature. As a quarterback, handling the ball so much, the No. 1 statistic tied in with the NFL winning and losing is the ball - turning it over [and] gaining turnovers, the turnover margin in general. Just holding onto the ball in the pocket, different things - stepping up, different movements – constantly trying to improve in different areas.”
In 2012, Freeman has played with a high-level of confidence; something he believes he has had throughout his career – even last year when he threw 22 interceptions.
“It’s hard to say, it really is,” Freeman said. “I always play with a lot of confidence. I take a lot of pride in preparation and I’d say, yeah, I’m a more confident quarterback then I’ve ever been and that’s from the maturation process. Next year, I’ll be even more confident going into the season. So definitely continuing trying to learn, grow – whether it’s fundamentals, understanding defenses, throwing the ball, whatever it may be – trying to constantly improve.”
Jeremy Trueblood was the starting right tackle for Freeman’s entire career until the seventh-year veteran was replaced by Demar Dotson earlier in the season. Understandably, Trueblood knows Freeman well and was candid when asked by PewterReport.com to explain how Freeman has improved this season.
“I always thought Josh always had kind of what we call ‘the it factor’ as far as quarterbacks go, so that’s never really been a problem for me,” Trueblood said. “He has a natural born ability to lead and I think just his overall confidence level is shown a lot by how he acts, obviously body language and stuff like that. But I’ve always thought, like I said, he’s been good with that kind of stuff. I don’t think there’s a major difference in his body language as far as his confidence or how he talks to people this year.”
Whether it’s because of hard work, maturation, the weapons, or the playbook – Freeman is playing on another level this season. Trueblood added a critical element to the equation that has been overlooked this season, but it may explain the change in Freeman best.
“I think, this goes for everybody else on the whole team, I think it’s our coaching staff’s attention to detail, covering every base, not leaving any stone unturned. I really honestly believe it all starts with how we prepare ourselves and how the coaches help us prepare and it’s night and day from how it’s been in years past.”