Tampa Bay Buccaneers Season In Review: Quarterback


Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

“Intercepted. Poorly thrown ball by Freeman.” – Thom Brennaman, Fox Sports NFL (Week 15 versus the Saints)

Josh Freeman had a pretty awful 2011 campaign, so the bar was set pretty low heading into 2012. But while the bar was low, the expectations were still incredibly high, and the slack on Freeman’s struggles was beginning to run out. He started strong and put together three solid games in the middle of the season, but fell into old habits down the stretch. Was Josh Freeman a failure or is the future still bright in Tampa?

Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Freeman started the season fairly well. He didn’t gain many yards, but he was accurate, and managed the Buccaneers offense in a 16-10 win over the Panthers.

It seemed like Tampa Bay fans might see the Freeman of 2010, who took care of the ball and made some impact plays. Week two would start well, but the first interception of 2012 for Freeman would be a bit of a microcosm of his entire season. Freeman was under a bit of pressure, but gained a moment of time where he could get the ball away. However, he committed the cardinal sin of quarterbacks, and threw the ball late over the middle. Even more concerning was the fact that he either missed a stationary Sammie Stroughter, missed a cutting Mike Williams, or underthrew Vincent Jackson. The result was a ball thrown in the middle of these three players, right to a Giants defender.

A closer look at the play shows something more. Obviously, Freeman was under a bit of heat. The makeshift offensive lines the Buccaneers put on the field this season obviously hindered Josh’s ability to make plays. But there’s something else that may have contributed to Freeman’s struggles: Mike Williams has a tendency to give up on plays. On the play in question, Williams might have been Freeman’s intended target. However, seemingly split seconds after the ball leaves Freeman’s hand, Williams simply stops running, and the ball goes past him and past Stroughter and right to Corey Webster. So, Freeman might have benefited from some bad luck, as some plays may have been out of his control.

Every coin has two sides, and Freeman also benefited from some lucky plays. As Fox’s Troy Aikman pointed out, Freeman’s 41 yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams in the same week two game wasn’t the most conventional or wise decision. Freeman threw the ball very late, down the sideline, for Williams. Williams out-leaped his defender, and benefited from a lucky bounce off the opponent’s helmet, and wound up with a touchdown catch. A better defensive back may have turned this play into an interception, but the result stood as a Freeman touchdown pass. The Buccaneers quarterback would have a similar play result in a score against the Chiefs, as he threw a ball that would have been taken care of by a better corner, but instead became a long touchdown for Williams.

It was a very polarizing year for Freeman. He obviously did well enough to set franchise records for passing yards and passing touchdowns. However, in terms of advanced metrics and quarterback rating, his season closely resembles Craig Erickson’s 1994 season as the Buccaneers’ signal caller. In other words, it was hardly spectacular apart from the sheer number of yards and scores. Josh Freeman supporters should be slow to praise his record setting performances, as the NFL is an evolving league and the conditions are conducive for a team to throw the ball all over the field. Not to mention the fact that only Brad Johnson has ever thrown more passes in a season in Buccaneers history.

Josh Freeman haters should be patient in their criticism, as Freeman did show moments of brilliance, and was not helped by a weak offensive line that was riddled with injuries. Nor was he helped by Mike Williams play-by-play decision as to whether or not he should finish his assigned route.

Overall, Freeman had some good moments, but the sheer lack of accuracy and his ability to kill a drive with a poor throw or a turnover takes away a good portion of his points. 2013 will be a key season for Freeman, and I hope he’s ready to take a step forward. Otherwise, the Buccaneers are going to be a ship without a captain once again heading into 2014.