Josh Freeman has become one of the most polarizing players in football, as his projected success or failure in 2013 has become a hot topic among NFL analysts, fantasy football experts, and fans in Tampa and across the football landscape. Detractors will point to his poor completion percentage and propensity for errant throws and interceptions, while his supporters can point to touchdowns, yards, and a record-setting Tampa Bay offense. So it’s impossible to dismiss either side of the conversation, as Freeman is clearly an enigma, as other analysts experts have stated in the past.
So how does Freeman dispel the negative discussion surrounding his play? I believe there are three ways that Freeman can boost his completion percentage and QB rating in the upcoming season. If he’s successful at boosting his stat line, and it corresponds to a successful Buccaneers’ season, there will be no doubt as to who the future quarterback is for the franchise. So here are the three things Freeman can do to step up in 2013 and live up to expectations.
Don’t Hold On To The Football Too Long
The offense in Tampa Bay is predicated on deep throws, attacking down the sidelines and making big plays against one on one coverage. Even considering the long passes needed to succeed in a Mike Sullivan system, Josh Freeman should not be holding onto the football for longer than 2.5 seconds, as he sees a drop in performance on throws that take longer to leave his hand. (All stats in this section courtesy of Pro Football Focus)
In fact, almost every NFL quarterback struggles on throws that take more time to develop, as only a few exceptions produce better on longer dropbacks (Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III are two notable outliers to this rule). But despite seeing a 5% drop in completion percentage and a 12.5 point drop in QB Rating on throws that take more than 2.5 seconds to throw, Freeman was among the league leaders in time to throw. Many of Freeman’s best plays from 2012 were executed in under 2.5 seconds, including his 62 yard deep throw to Mike Williams in the game against the Kansas City Chiefs. So there can be big plays with quicker timing, and that must be a goal for Freeman in 2013.
Execute Short Passes Like He Has In The Past
The 2012 season and the new focus on deep throws seems to feed perfectly into Josh Freeman’s lower completion percentage. After all, deeper throws are tougher to complete, right?
That would seem to make sense, but it was Freeman’s execution on short passes that let him down in 2012. According to Football Outsider’s 2013 Almanac (available at their website, click here for more information), Freeman threw 42% of his passes 5 yards or fewer, which is down from 52% of the same length of pass in 2011. He also threw significantly more passes of 16 yards or longer in 2012 than he did in 2011. But his slip in performance came thanks to poor passes on the short throws.
Freeman completed only 63% of his throws of up to 5 yards, which is down 10% from the season before. He also saw a drop of 5% on medium length throws of 6-15 yards. In other words, Freeman struggled to make the throws that are needed to sustain drives, but he was excellent on throws needed to make big plays. He saw a jump in completions over 16 yards, so he clearly has the talent to flourish in the system.
But imagine if he regains his touch on short throws and is able to recall the skills and mindset that allowed him to be 10% more efficient on short passes. He will still have the same deep throw ability, but with a more precise mid-range and short game, he’ll find himself extending drives and improving his statistics.
Handle the Pressure Better
This is something we have discussed at length on this site in the past, but it bears repeating. Josh Freeman has to handle pressure better than he did in 2012, or he’s not going to make it as a franchise QB in the NFL. Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo wrote an article recently using PFF’s advanced charting stats and scouting numbers to show how well the NFC South’s QBs have done under pressure for their careers, and it reveals a lot about Josh Freeman.
Every quarterback in the division struggles against the pressure, because that’s the nature of pressuring the quarterback, and why successful teams almost always have a solid front seven capable of bothering opposing quarterbacks. But Freeman has been woefully bad against the pressure, seeing a 32 point drop in his QB rating and a completion percentage under 47% when facing a pass rush, with a higher ratio of attempt to interception.
This suggestion for Freeman goes hand in hand with the first two. Getting rid of the ball quickly and having confidence in his ability to deliver an accurate short pass to avoid pressure will be key in the development of Freeman as he enters his final “rookie deal” season. It’s clear that almost all of Freeman’s struggles are mental, not physical, which means that the tools are there to provide an amazing performance in 2013 from the Bucs’ fifth year signal caller.
Josh Freeman is completely capable of having the kind of break out season that Eli Manning had in his fifth season in the NFL, because the reduction of mistakes and the increase in precision were the two steps Manning took in his fifth year. Freeman will have an offensive coordinator who worked hand-in-hand with Manning, and knows how to groom a quarterback with a similar set of skills, so it’s up to Freeman to take that valuable coaching out of the meeting room and onto the field on Sundays.