table of contents
- Barth, Joseph Have Been Lone Bright Spots For Bucs Offense
- Eschewing Free Agency, Bucs Gambled On Youth Movement And Lost
- Point-Counterpoint: Should Geno Hayes Be Re-signed?
- Don’t Give Up On Josh Freeman
- In The Lab: WR Ed Gant
- Pewter Prospect: RB Doug Martin
- Pewter Prospect: LB Lavonte David
- SR's Fab 5
One year after throwing for 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions while leading the Buccaneers to 10 wins, quarterback Josh Freeman has come under fire in a turnover-filled 2011 campaign.
A year ago, he was called Josh Franchise.
At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Tampa Bay’s 2009 first-round pick had the look and size of a franchise quarterback. After throwing for 3,451 yards with 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions in his second NFL year and his first as a full-season starter, Josh Freeman appeared as if he was ready to become an upper echelon quarterback and a bona fide star.
With an astounding 95.7 quarterback rating in 2010 during a record-breaking season, Freeman was playing like a franchise quarterback and was certainly living up to his first-round draft status.
But in what the Buccaneers organization and Tampa Bay fans were expecting to be a long-awaited playoff season in 2011, Freeman seems to have regressed after not having the benefit of real offseason work with offensive coordinator Greg Olson and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt due to the NFL lockout.
Freeman has missed one game, at home against Carolina, due to a shoulder injury, and through 14 games this year he has completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 3,318 yards with 14 touchdowns and a career-high 19 interceptions.
There have been some improvements as Freeman’s completion percentage has gotten slightly better and he will likely surpass his single-season passing yardage mark with 134 yards in the season finale at Atlanta. But what has Freeman drawing criticism this year is his touchdown-to-interception ratio, which is 14:19.
Freeman has been the victim of poor decision-making as well as a lot of tipped passes from his receivers falling into the hands of opposing teams. Opposing teams had a lot more than just six opportunities to intercept Freeman in 2010, but as luck would have it, defenders dropped more than a couple potential picks and that helped the young signal caller have an incredible season a year ago.
Freeman’s most recent interception, which came at Carolina, was yet another pass that was tipped and picked off.
“The first half, excluding the first fumble, we only had two drives, scored on both,” Freeman said. “And the second half, we came out and turned the ball over. We were trying to go out, push the tempo, get the ball in our playmakers’ hands and make some things happen.
“I had the tipped pass. It could’ve been a little higher, but the guy made a great play on it. I thought it was going to be a big play when the ball left my hands. … Yeah, it just didn’t go my way.”
The same could be said about Freeman’s 2011 season, which has included a sprained thumb and a cut on his thumb from an in-season gun range accident. It just hasn’t gone his way.
“Some of them are jump balls that we aren’t getting,” Tampa Bay right tackle Jeremy Trueblood said. “Some of them are really good plays by DBs that really aren’t Josh’s fault. He plays a position where everything that goes well he gets the glory, and everything that doesn’t go well he gets the criticism. It is what it is. He’s a great quarterback and we have tremendous faith in him.”
Through his first three seasons, Freeman has thrown 49 touchdowns and 43 interceptions, and if it makes you feel any better, Dallas legend Troy Aikman threw 31 touchdowns and a whopping 46 interceptions during his first three years as a starting quarterback in Dallas.
As good of a quarterback as the Super Bowl-winning Aikman was, he only surpassed 20 touchdowns in a season just one time, and that’s a feat Freeman has already accomplished.
It took four seasons as a starter for New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning to post a QB rating over 77 and a completion percentage higher than 57.7 percent. At the conclusion of the 2011 campaign, Freeman will have two seasons in which he has completed over 61 percent of his passes and has a cumulative career QB rating of 79.3 heading into the Week 17 contest at Atlanta. In his first three seasons in the NFL, Manning had similar numbers to Freeman with 54 touchdowns and 44 interceptions.
The same could be said for Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, who had 52 touchdowns and 43 interceptions after his first three years in the NFL. Like Freeman, Roethlisberger experienced some statistical regression in his third season.
After two seasons in which Roethlisberger threw for 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions (2004) and 17 TDs and nine picks (2005), he regressed in 2006, tossing just 18 touchdowns and a career-high 23 picks with a career-low 59.7 percent completion percentage.
Following three straight years with a QB rating over 101.8, the passer rating of San Diego’s Philip Rivers has fallen to 86.6, which a lot of quarterbacks would love to have. After three straight years of completing over 65 percent of his passes, Rivers is only completing 62.4 percent of his throws, yet has still thrown for over 4,000 yards for the fourth straight season.
What has Rivers’ critics up in arms is the fact that he has thrown 19 interceptions along with his 24 touchdowns and has fumbled a career-high seven times. There is nothing that will bring out a quarterback’s critics like turnovers because they are such an important statistic in determining wins and losses in the NFL.
Like Rivers, Freeman is not a bad quarterback, just having a bad year. It’s too early to give up on Freeman and suggest that the 2010 season was the fluke and that the 2011 campaign will be the norm going forward.
It’s not uncommon for quarterbacks like Roethlisberger and Freeman to take a step back and have some regression early in their careers. That’s happening to some of Freeman’s contemporaries in New York’s Mark Sanchez and St. Louis’ Sam Bradford.
Sanchez has completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 3,267 yards with 24 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2011. Yet Jets fans were ready to crucify him after he completed just 50.8 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions and lost a fumble in a loss to the cross-town rival New York Giants. Keep in mind that Sanchez did throw a touchdown pass and run for another score in that game.
Sanchez, who was a first-round pick in 2009 like Freeman, has a career-high 79 QB rating in 2011 after having a 75.3 passer rating in 2010 after completing 54.8 percent of his passes for 3,291 yards with 17 touchdowns and 13 picks. Keep in mind that Freeman has already achieved a 95 quarterback rating for a season.
As for Bradford, he started all 16 games during his rookie season as the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, completing 60 percent of his passes for 3,512 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Yet in 2011, Bradford has completed only 53.5 percent of his passes for 2,164 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions.
Due to poor performance by the offensive line, Bradford hasn’t had much time to drop back and survey they field. He was sacked 34 times as a rookie, and has been sacked 36 times in his second season, despite playing in just 10 games due to injuries. He also lost just two fumbles in 2010, but coughed the ball up seven times this season despite playing in fewer games.
The fact that quarterbacks like Bradford, Rivers and Freeman are having bad years doesn’t make them bad quarterbacks. The talent is there in each of those players. The production from at least one successful season is also there to build upon.
There is no doubt that this season will provide the opportunity for Freeman to grow as a quarterback and better himself for a rebound season in 2012. People tend to learn more from their mistakes than their successes, and there will be plenty of mistake film to go over with Freeman’s coaches in the spring. The only applicable question is which coaches will be around to tutor Freeman next year.
The Bucs have had spent their share of high draft picks and acquired quarterbacks on quarterbacks over the years from Doug Williams to Steve Young to Chris Chandler to Vinny Testaverde to Craig Erickson to Trent Dilfer to Shaun King to Brad Johnson and the closest Tampa Bay has come to drafting a franchise quarterback has been Freeman in terms of potential and tools. Like most third-year quarterbacks Freeman is still sharpening his tools and trying to live up to his potential.
“You aren’t going to have a great year every year,” said Bucs wide receiver Mike Williams. “It just happens. Sometimes it’s the game plan and sometimes it’s the adjustments that other teams make. He still has a lot of room to grow. I think he’s going to be great. It would be foolish to give up on Josh Freeman. We’ve never given up on Josh and we never will.”