Mid-Season Report: Quarterbacks
By Patrik Nohe
We’re starting with our level by level break-down of the Buccaneers at the mid-way point of the season, we’ll begin with the new face of the organization, Josh Freeman and the quarterbacks.
So far this season, in his second year in the NFL and first full year as a starter Josh Freeman has made leaps and bounds in his progression as the quarterback. At just 22, Freeman is already showing the type of leadership and moxie that make a franchise quarterback. One thing is for sure right now, I don’t think that any of the Bucs fans want to admit to booing Freeman at the Bucs 2009 draft party anymore. Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik are effectively off the hook for moving up to take Freeman.
Last season, Freeman was about what you’d expect from a rookie. He looked overwhelmed at times, he oftentimes struggled with complex coverages and with heavy pressure and he made a lot of mistakes. But he also showed glimmers of potential. His numbers last year were not incredible.
But as you can tell, in just eight games this season he’s already matched his touchdown total, he’s cut down on the interceptions dramatically, his completion percentage is now up near 60 percent and he’s a full 26 points better in the QB rating department.
That’s the kind of maturation you want to see from one year to the next. This season Josh Freeman has clearly progressed, he looks more comfortable out there and he’s playing a lot better because of it. Two weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals, Freeman had his best game as a starter. He completed 72 percent of his passes for 278 yards and score, on the way to posting a 121.8 QB rating.
Even in arguably his worst game of the season last weekend, when he completed just half his attempts and threw two costly picks you could see that Freeman is developing into a franchise-type quarterback. Whether it was knowing when to scramble and more importantly when to slide, or more impressively, making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, you could see Freeman’s progression.
Predicting the Second Half
When talking about the Bucs quarterbacks it’s really only Freeman we’re mentioning. Josh Johnson has played just one game, in garbage time against the Steelers. I like Josh Johnson, but everyone in Tampa knows by this point that if he’s playing, there are big problems. The Bucs will live and die by Josh Freeman.
I think the second half of the season could go one of two ways, either Freeman begins to plateau a bit and possibly even runs into a bit of a sophomore slump (keep in mind he’s got just 17 starts under his belt) or, more likely, he will continue to progress. One thing is for sure, as Freeman goes, so go the Buccaneers. If this Tampa Bay team wants to have any prayer of making a run at the playoffs they really need for Josh Freeman to produce in the second half much the way he did in the first.
Fortunately for the Bucs, Josh Freeman is a second half sort of guy. Whether it’s leading his team to come-from-behind victories in the waning moments of the 4th quarter or finishing the season 2-1 (and beating the Superbowl Champs on the road), Freeman has proven he typically finishes a lot stronger than he starts. I don’t see that changing this season either. The Buccaneers schedule begins to open up in the second half with at least four games the Bucs should definitely be favored in. If Freeman can continue to progress, make good decisions and play at a high level, I think he could have an outside shot at a Pro Bowl.
It’s all going to be contingent on the success of the Buccaneers down the stretch, but as I mentioned that’s circular because the Buccaneers success all depends on Josh Freeman. I think Freeman is poised to have a big second half, and I don’t think I’m alone in that assessment.
First Half Grade: B+
I don’t give out A’s easily, but if Freeman can guide this Bucs team to the playoffs I may make an exception.