So what allows “Good” Josh to show up, either at One Buc or on the road, and lead the Buccaneers to victories? Taking a look at his best season, the 2010 campaign, reveals a few surface facts: High completion percentage, lack of turnovers, and fewer attempts per game were part of the keys to Freeman’s success. Josh registered only 474 pass attempts in 16 starts in 2010, compared to 551 attempts in only 15 starts in 2011.
Taking a deeper look, ESPN.com’s splits show an interesting bit of information that may show how Josh has been misused in 2012. In 2010, Josh was extremely efficient on first down throws, completing 64 percent of 1st and 10 throws, with a QB rating of 94.6. Over 16 games, he attempted 159 passes on first down. So far in 2012, Freeman has completed only 52 percent of 1st and 10 passes, but with a higher QB rating of 102.2. He has attempted 134 passes on first and 10 so far this season, and therefore is on pace to have just a handful more than he had on similar plays in 2010.
Seems that Josh has been better on first and 10, so what’s the issue? The issue is the lack of accuracy, and the position it puts Freeman into on 2nd and 3rd down. In 2012, Freeman has struggled the most on 2nd down passing in general, and in 3rd down and long passing. Seemingly, if he doesn’t strike on first down, he gets behind the down and distance and is unable to catch back up. He has a QB rating in the mid 70’s on 2nd down, and in the mid 80’s on 3rd and long.
I honestly believe that this shows that Josh is still developing the ability to cope with “the wheels falling off.” He usually does well on the scripted plays to begin a game, because it’s a very controlled environment. He also does well in the fourth quarter in comeback situations, because the game is open and flowing and there’s no time for stress, and he remains visibly cool and collected. It’s the grind of the game, the frustration of “2nd and 10” or “3rdand 8”, that gets to the young quarterback. Missing an open man on first down affects him for the next two or three plays, and this is where the coaches need to realize his weaknesses, and put him in a better position to succeed. It’s also an opportunity for Freeman to learn to better cope with the situations he is presented, and remain true to his abilities and responsibilities regardless of situation.
A suggestion and area for improvement in regards to the coaching staff would be (and I’m sure this will come as no huge surprise) to use Doug Martin on second down more often, even if Josh misses a pass on first down! Martin averages 5.6 yards per carry on second down, which means 2nd and 10 can turn to 3rd and 4, which is a much more manageable situation (obviously). The playcalling seems to be based on the previous seasons in Tampa Bay, where there was no stud running back who could collect chunks of yards at any time. And if the buccaneers do choose to throw the ball on second down, throw it to Martin and make it easier for Freeman, as Martin is most successful catching the ball on second down, and a short throw will obviously make things easier for Josh. 2nd and 10 does not require a 10 yard gain to be successful, 5-7 yards is just fine.
Overall, I believe that Josh Freeman may never “get over” some of his inconsistencies. He is never going to be the most accurate QB in the NFL, but honestly, he was never drafted to be that kind of player. He was drafted to be a Ben Roethlisberger type of QB, with athleticism and big play potential. This season, he has shown he is capable of being that kind of player, but just like Big Ben, most seasons won’t have completion percentages in the high 60’s like a Drew Brees or Peyton Manning type of quarterback (and by “type of” I mean specifically those two guys exclusively). The goal for the coaching staff is to learn the situations in which Josh is at his best, and put him in those situations as often as is possible. For Josh, the goal needs to be to grow as a leader of the offense, and to channel frustration into improvement, and to not allow incompletions, dropped passes, and incorrectly run routes to turn into future mistakes or shortcomings.
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