The Miami Dolphins will present a different challenge for rookie quarterback Josh Freeman. Fresh off throwing three touchdown passes to lead the Bucs to their first victory of the season, Freeman will go against two of the most accomplished pass rushers in the NFL in Jason Taylor and Joey Porter.
"You know they have two excellent I guess linebacker defensive end type guys," Freeman said. "With [Joey] Porter and also [Jason] Taylor coming off the edges, just getting in the proper protection calls so we don't end up with a running back on them in protections. Also both of their cornerbacks, the two rookies are playing extremely well right now. I know they felt confident enough in Vontae Davis to have him shadow Randy Moss for the whole game last week. We know that they have a lot of talent. They have a lot of speed on defense, so we are going to have to play are game and take advantage of all the matchups we get."
Against the Green Bay Packers Freeman led the Buccaneers to a 38-28 comeback fourth quarter victory. He was 14-of-31 passing for 205 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Freeman also ran four times for 20 yards. On Wednesday, Freeman met with the media and reviewed his performance from his first NFL start.
"Like I said I have a lot of things to work on from a perspective of consistency," said Freeman. "And eliminate the turnover. Yeah it is just a start. We have a lot to build off of. All I'm happy with is we got the win. That is all I'm happy about."
Freeman was not the only member of the Buccaneers who saw room for improvement from the rookie signal caller. One play in particular stood out to Bucs offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Greg Olson. Freeman was running for a first down in the first quarter, but slid to avoid a tackle and ended being short of first-down yardage.
"The slide the very first third down. Gosh that is not what you'd expect to see from him," said Olson. "I wanted to know where he learned that because we haven't practiced that. With him coming out of college I've never seen that from him. In the preseason he never slid, so that was kind of a shock to everybody. I had him listen to a phone message from Jeff Garcia, who broke his nose last year trying to get a first down. [Garcia] said let him listen to this, and hear what I got to say about that. We chuckled about it in the quarterback room.
"But what do you want your reputation to be in the league? A tough guy. You're 6-foot-5 and 260-pounds and you look back at the replay and the two guys that were coming up to tackle him weren't real aggressively coming at him. That was a good lesson for him, but there were a couple fumbled snaps. Certainly those things we can't have, especially in critical situations, and that's not all Josh's fault when you are the third quarterback they're working with. Those are things that really if the ball had not bounced you're way, the game would not have come out the way it did. We got some luck."
Olson said that Freeman was embarrassed coming off the field after that play, and took the teasing well from Garcia, and his teammates. Aiding Freeman against the Packers was an extra week to prepare for Green Bay due to the Bucs bye week.
"Well the preparation going into this week is back to normal. We don't have the extra week we had last week," Freeman said. "We still have a good idea of what Miami is going to try and do. We expect them to pressure a little bit more than what Green Bay did. At the same time we are just watching film and trying to figure them out."
Last season a Miami defense that was adept at taking the ball away led them to 11 wins and an AFC East Division championship. That came on the heels of a 1-15 campaign in 2007. The Buccaneers ranked 28th in the NFL in offense. They have the 25th ranked rushing attack and the 23rd rated passing offense. Tampa Bay has a zero turnover differential, 14 take-aways and 14 give-aways, which ranks them tied for 16th in the NFL. Miami is tied for 20th with a -1 turnover differential.
The Buccaneers are bracing for a fiercer pass rush this week. Taylor, 35, returned to the Dolphins after spending the 2008 season with the Washington Redskins. In his second stint with the Dolphins, he has 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles this season. Porter, 32, had a career high 17.5 sacks with Miami last season. In seven games in 2009 he has 2.5 sacks with a forced fumble. Center Jeff Faine said the offensive line is expecting to have to deal with a more intense pass rush with the Dolphins than what the Bucs had against the Packers.
"I think we have to expect decent pressure," said Faine. "This team is definitely capable of just playing us as they are. They have the talent and the ability to just play us with their natural defensive front. They have two very good young cornerbacks who have played extremely well this year. They will not hesitate to put them out there on an island. We definitely have to just go out there and prepare and rise to the occasion."
While Miami features a veteran-laden front seven and a very young secondary. The Dolphins feature rookie cornerbacks Shaun Smith and Vontae Davis. The young defensive backs have had some struggles in 2009, as the team is ranked 28th against the pass. Against the run Miami is fifth in the league, and has the 22nd ranked defense overall. Despite the low ranking and youth, Freeman said Miami shouldn't be taken lightly.
"That is not really a question, you have to respect everybody. It is that type of league," Freeman said. "Everybody who is starting in this league is a good player, and obviously excelled. I had the opportunity to work out with Vontae [Davis] this offseason leading up to the combine and the draft. He is an extremely confident young man, and I know he is going to go out there and play hard the entire game."
Both the Packers and the Dolphins employ a 3-4 defense, so Freeman will have the luxury of seeing similar defensive formations for two weeks in a row.
"Whenever you are facing Jason Taylor, Joey Porter, and some of the guys Miami has up front, [Jason] Ferguson," said Morris. "Big time pass rush, and fifth in the league against the rush. I wouldn't say that is a benefit. He had the benefit of playing them a little bit in the preseason. I don't know if it is a benefit when you are playing a defense with that type of talent. They have a first round corner in Vontae [Davis], and the other one just as well could have been a first round corner in a pretty good player in Shaun Smith. We'll go out there and give our best effort."
At 1-7 Morris and the Buccaneers are looking at the remained of the season as eight games left in a nine-game season. After the bye week, Morris directed his team to forget about the first seven games. Morris said Tampa Bay is 1-0 in their nine game season, and he desires to see an improving team throughout the season.
"Steady improvement, now Josh Freeman is in on offense," Morris said. "So hopefully we can see steady improvement from our offense based off the game the other day. He doesn't have to go out and put up three touchdowns again, but you just want to see steady improvement. The mistakes he made you don't want to see him make again. At least you want to see him make new mistakes. You want to see the guys build around him, play better around him, play faster around him."
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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