As Queen and David Bowie told us so long ago, pressure pushes down on you and me. Being under pressure is a cause of frustration and a loss of productivity in any professional situation. The artist who has to create the perfect work on a tight deadline, the middle manager who has to improve sales numbers by the end of the quarter, or the quarterback who has large, athletic men chasing him with the intent of causing him bodily harm. Since this is not a self-help website, and I only minored in psychology in college, we’ll ignore the ramifications of the first two scenarios, and focus on the third. How much does pressure affect an NFL quarterback, and how can the Buccaneers learn from knowing more about how pressure impacts their signal caller?
I think every Buccaneer fan can agree that the 2010 version of Josh Freeman was one of the best quarterbacks in team history, and a return to that form would do wonders for the Buccaneer offense. Looking back at that season, we can see what Josh did well, and how things have changed since. According to Pro Football Focus, Freeman had a QB Rating of 80 on plays where he faced pressure from the defense, and a rating of 105 on plays he did not face pressure. His completion percentage on those plays raised from 50.9 to 67.1, respectively. The blocking schemes and defenses dictated that Freeman saw 100 more pressure-free plays than plays where he was under duress, so Freeman was able to take his time and make better decisions. His numbers against pressure were still respectable, and he showed an ability to manage stressful situations. In 2011, Freeman took a step back in all aspects of his game, but the difference in his statistics while under the strain of a pass rush as compared to being well-protected stayed virtually the same. Freeman threw more interceptions when given time in the pocket, but completed 67 percent of his passes, and saw much more production when allowed the opportunity to go through his progressions.
In 2012, Freeman took an incredible step forward (or, back towards his 2010 form) when undeterred by pass rushers. Josh registered a 96 passer rating, and threw only 8 picks in almost 400 dropbacks that saw him have time to throw. He completed over 60 percent of his passes in these situations, and threw 20 of his 27 touchdowns. However, he was brutal when facing pressure, with a QB rating under 50, and 9 interceptions in only 200 dropbacks. Put another way, Josh threw a pick in 2% of his pressure-free dropbacks, but gave the ball to the opponent on almost 5% of his pressured attempts.This proves that Josh is having no problems developing as a passer when things are going well, but is still struggling to cope with less picturesque situations.
Under current Bucs’ offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, Eli Manning posted an 80.9 passer rating against pressure in his incredible 2011 season. The reason that Sullivan was brought to Tampa was to see Josh Freeman develop the same way Eli did under the QB coach’s watch. Much like Eli in 2010, Josh has taken a step forward on his easier throws under Sullivan. The challenge for the Buccaneers offensive leader is to emulate Manning’s 2011 season, and make a vast improvement on his pressured throws. While I have my doubts about Josh Freeman, the numbers don’t lie. A Josh Freeman that can handle pressure is a lock to be a top flight NFL quarterback for a long, long time.