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

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Dec 16, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan (94) knocks the ball loose from Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) during fourth quarter of their game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Jordan would recover the ball for a turnover. The Saints defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41-0. John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Interception 9: Week 15 versus the New Orleans Saints, Down 7 in the 1st Quarter

The first of many interceptions heading down the final stretch of the 2012 season, Freeman tried to connect with Dallas Clark on a short in route on 2nd down just outside the red zone. Clark stumbles on his break after a five yard route, and Freeman has already started to throw as Clark makes a clumsy turn infield. He cuts back towards Freeman a bit as he turns inside, and the throw sails right above him as he fails to make a play on the football at all. But this wasn’t a typical Josh Freeman overthrow, this one was more a symptom of poor timing. Clark’s route was poor, and it’s curious why he would be lined up outside against a cornerback anyways, as this sort of route is better suited for Vincent Jackson.

Verdict: The blame here is split between a bad call to have Clark outside against a corner, Clark for running a poor route, and Freeman for throwing the ball high to a tight end with no athleticism.

Interception 10: Week 15 versus the New Orleans Saints, Down 10 in the 2nd Quarter

As mentioned earlier, Freeman and Vincent Jackson would have another possible miscommunication turn into an interception in 2012, and it happened on this play. Josh faced a blitz, but it was picked up well enough for him to pick up a free-releasing Vincent Jackson. Freeman starts to throw as Jackson is 7 yards from the line of scrimmage, and Jackson never looks back to pick up the situation. The throw winds up in such a place that implies Freeman was looking for Jackson to run an in or a slant based on the pressure he was facing, while Jackson was running a post route heading deeper down the field. There were no signs of Josh making a poor throw in terms of poor footwork, this was an intended pass over the middle to a location where no receiver would wind up.

Verdict: This was a miscommunication, not a technical mistake by Freeman. It may have been on Jackson for failing to recognize a need for a hot route, or for Freeman for assuming that Jackson was going to run a route he wasn’t planning to run.

Interception 11: Week 15 versus the New Orleans Saints, Down 24 in the 3rd Quarter

This was the infamous jump ball to Dallas Clark play.  Freeman has all day in the pocket, and for some reason, Dallas Clark is streaking down the field and is the target of a lobbed pass. Clark makes absolutely no play on the ball and is completely lost as a receiver looking for a pass over his shoulder, and it’s an easy interception. As Brian Billick said on the FOX broadcast “(Josh) was looking for (Clark) to settle and battle for a jump ball, but Clark continued on like he was going to be led by the pass.” There weren’t many safer, shorter options available (one receiver may have been open on the left sideline and missed by Freeman), but I’m not sure why Clark was such a deep target. This was a confusing play.

Verdict: This was a poor playcall to send Clark deep, a poor decision to throw a jump ball to a guy like Clark, and an awful effort by Clark, who looked lost that far down the field.

Interception 12: Week 15 versus the New Orleans Saints, Down 31 in the 4th Quarter

Josh Freeman was looking to put some points on the board on this play, and lobs it down the field for Tiquan Underwood. Underwood slows up multiple times on his route, while the defensive back never stopped, and Freeman’s pass sailed right into the Saints’ hands. Freeman was upset coming off the field, and despite attempts to read his lips as to what he was saying, I could only decipher profanity. But it’s reasonable to think Freeman knew Underwood gave up on the route.

Verdict: The team just wanted some points, and Freeman had Underwood in a one-on-one situation. Underwood just put forth a lackluster effort, and Freeman’s throw was probably a bit long.

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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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