Assessing the Damage: Breaking Down All 17 of Josh Freeman’s 2012 Interceptions

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Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

In 2012, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got to see flashes of brilliance from their young quarterback Josh Freeman, particularly during the middle of the season when he was producing at a high level and overcoming a poor defense that failed to support him week after week. But near the end of the season, he started to fall apart, turning the ball over more often and becoming the subject of speculation and criticism. So what went wrong for Freeman, and what led to his collapse in the final few weeks?

In this article, I am going to break down every interception thrown by Josh Freeman in 2012, and attempt to extrapolate the root causes, notice the trends, and speculate how Freeman may do in 2013 based on the mistakes he made in 2012. Let’s start in Week 2.

Mandatory Credit: Jim O

Interception 1: Week 2 against the New York Giants. Up 11 Points in the 3rd Quarter.

This play is maybe the prototype Josh Freeman interception, or at least it was coming into 2012. Freeman took a short drop, faced pressure, and throws fading away from the play rather than stepping into his throw. Troy Aikman on FOX’s coverage noted that Freeman had the chance to escape the pocket and run, but he instead chose to throw moving away from his target, and sails it over the head of Sammie Stroughter for an easy pick. Freeman committed two cardinal sins of a QB: He threw late over the middle, and he threw off his back foot while moving away from the play. Freeman showed that he was unable to handle pressure well on this play, something I broke down statistically a few weeks ago (click here to read more once you’re done with this article!).

Verdict: This one was Josh’s fault, and while he was under pressure, he should have done better than to make a poor throw with awful footwork.

Interception 2: Week 2 against the New York Giants, Down 7 points in the 4th Quarter.

With just 12 seconds left, and with one timeout, the Buccaneers were looking to get down the field and tie the game despite blowing a big lead. Freeman again faced pressure thanks to a perfectly timed jump by a Giant’s pass rusher, and doesn’t make a good throw at all. Freeman bolts from the pocket and rolls right, and is trying to find Dallas Clark over the middle to get closer to the end zone in order to set up one last heave downfield with a few seconds left. The other receivers were not open at all, and Clark had broken into a bit of space, but Freeman’s throw on the run wasn’t good enough, and the defense took advantage.

Verdict: This one is on Josh as well, there was a fairly open receiver and he failed to deliver a catchable pass in a key situation.

Interception 3: Week 3 against the Dallas Cowboys, Up 7 points in the 1st Quarter

This one isn’t on Josh Freeman at all. DJ Ware leaked out of the backfield, and with Josh facing a corner blitz, he looks to dump the ball off to his running back to see if a play can be made, and to settle for a punt. The playcall was awful, with three other receivers virtually running to the same spot in the middle of the field, so Freeman had no choice but to try to dump it off. Ware allowed the ball to hit his body, pop into the air, and land in the hands of a Cowboys’ defender.

Verdict: Bad luck, bad playcall, and awful attempt to catch the ball by Ware.

Interception 4: Week 4 against the Washington Redskins, Down 4 points in the 1st Quarter

Freeman took a seven step drop on this play, but it had to be cut a bit short, as the outside pass rushers were already on the chase behind Josh. He stepped up and had to weave his way through the maze of a collapsed pocket and stepped into a misguided throw that ended up in the wrong spot. Vincent Jackson had 1-on-1 coverage against Deangelo Hall, and Hall had position on the sideline side of Jackson. Freeman threw the ball to this side, rather than to the inside of Jackson, and that meant Hall was in perfect position. The pressure probably disallowed Freeman the time and ability to consider the positioning of Hall, so the throw wound up in the hands of the Redskins.

Verdict: Josh once again allowed pressure to affect him, but this wasn’t an awful decision, it was just a throw that needed to be very well thrown, but was instead thrown slightly below average, which isn’t good enough against a ballhawk like Hall.

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  • RussMillerWY

    Great analysis! I’m grateful for the time and effort you put into writing such a useful article.

    I was surprised to notice so many of the picks were on throws to Clark and to Underwood. Freeman often has Jackson as his first target in the progression, so I suppose it seems to me like Freeman is often staring Jackson down on most of his throws. This would explain why the Bucs blew off Clark this year, but not why they didn’t make moves to significantly upgrade the TE and #3 WR positions.

    My conclusion? All quarterbacks make mistakes. This year Pro Bowl veterans Tony Romo and Drew Brees threw more than Freeman, 19 each, while Matthew Stafford threw the same number, 17. The interception bonanzas against the Saints and Rams were embarrassing, but these were also the games in which quite a few of the interceptions were not Freeman’s fault. Bottom line: had Freeman been more perfect, they might have pulled out victories against the Rams and Giants. However, the Bucs’ utter lack of any credible pass defense often put the offense in situations where they had to make desperate comebacks with desperate throws. Sometimes, as against Carolina, Freeman made brilliant throws that only a handful of qbs could ever make, one of them to the aging Clark, to prevent disaster.

    A 27:17 TD to interception ratio is less than ideal, but it is typical of strong-armed quarterbacks in “let’s chuck it deep” systems like the ones Brett Favre, Terry Bradshaw, and Ben Roethlisberger have played in. Big Ben has slowly improved his TD:INT ratio over time, but Favre and Bradshaw were always streaky and often had much worse ratios than we’ve seen any of Freeman’s seasons. Yet look where they are now. If the Bucs give up on Freeman, some other team will make him their Hall of Fame qb, and we’ll always have some other less-than-perfect QB to scapegoat when we come up short.

    • LeoTPP

      Yeah, I have to imagine Clark’s inability to fight for the ball on a few plays that turned into picks was a frustration point for the Bucs. And yes, QB’s make mistakes, as do his players (like DJ Ware, for an obvious example). Josh just made a bunch of mistakes over the course of two weeks and it inflated his numbers greatly. Will be interesting to see how he bounces back.

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