Sep 15, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterbackJosh Freeman
(5) slides for a first down during the first half of the game against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
Josh Freeman was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round following the end of the Jon Gruden era, and he signaled a big change at the quarterback position. Gone were the days of tired, old re-tread quarterbacks brought in just to run Chucky’s system.
Freeman was an exciting young talent with athleticism and a big arm, and he was going to be a bit of a project. But that was the exciting part, Freeman had room to grow and develop, rather than being a seemingly NFL-ready talent who wouldn’t blossom in the NFL, like a Matt Leinart or David Carr.
Yet it’s year five for Freeman, and there’s been nothing but a roller coaster of results. And there’s plenty of excuses to throw out about why Freeman hasn’t been worthy of his first round pick to this point.
- ‘Well, if he’d only be allowed to run more.”
- “If his receivers would catch the ball more often…”
- “The playcalling sucks, Freeman is never in a position to succeed.”
- “The offensive line can’t keep Freeman standing up long enough to get things done.”
- “His coach doesn’t support him, how can he expect to do well in those circumstances?”
- “If he only had some consistency at offensive coordinator, he’d be able to grow into a system and develop.”
All of that needs to stop.
November 25, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) reacts after a penalty called on the Buccaneers during the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Josh Freeman has played two games this season in which he has failed to deliver consistent, accurate throws. He’s also turned the ball over in frustrating fashion, leading to lost opportunities and points for the opponents.
And while I can go back and watch the tape and find reasons to blame everyone else involved, those excuses don’t mean a thing when the loss column is adding up, and Josh Freeman’s contract is winding down.
Here are two reasons why Freeman has no one to blame but himself.
Great Quarterbacks Overcome Adversity and Handle Pressure
I know this is as cliché and trite as it gets, but its true. The best quarterbacks in the NFL find a way to overcome tough situations. Consider Tom Brady, who somehow managed to get a win on Thursday against the Jets with one of the worst groups of receivers in the NFL.
And while no one expects Josh Freeman to be Tom Brady, the example is there for Freeman to follow. You’re not always going to have a perfect route run by your receiver, and even if you throw a perfect pass, he’s not always going to catch it. But you need to battle through it, and make plays anyways.
Sep 15, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams (19) is defended by New Orleans Saints cornerback Jabari Greer (33) during the game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports
The Buccaneers’ quarterback let those stumbles by his receivers keep him down on Sunday, and it impacted the game negatively. Freeman has to be more precise and consistent, so that even the mistakes by his receivers are positive moments that build confidence and chemistry. Who knows if the plays where Vincent Jackson fell down would have been completions? It’s impossible to know, and reasonable to doubt given Freeman’s accuracy.
He also struggled handling pressure against New Orleans, surrendering two turnovers as the result of pass rushers getting after him and causing him to make bad decisions. The fumble Freeman coughed up was avoidable, as he should have let go of the ball sooner. The interception was a classic “Josh Freeman” interception, throwing late, off his back foot, and to a receiver who wasn’t very open at all, all because he was hurried by defenders chasing him down.
But he also seemed to be put off by the pressure of the game. One of Freeman’s hallmark qualities is his ability in late-game situations to drive the team to much-needed scores. But on Sunday, he failed to deliver consistently in the second half of a close game, and his defense had to score points for him. And even then, he was unable to deliver the throws needed to get his team a victory by extending drives and milking the clock.
Josh Freeman showed early in his career that he’s capable of leading game-winning drives, and putting his team in a position to win late in a contest. But since then, he’s regressed in his accuracy and decision-making, and it’s decreased the amount of chances he’s given to lead a potential comeback effort.
This showed again on Sunday evening against the Saints.
Josh Freeman was clearly rattled after the long touchdown to Vincent Jackson was called back due to a procedure penalty, and that changed how the game ended based on how Freeman was playing during the crucial final drives. He was no longer accurate, and the offense was unable to keep the ball moving long enough to sustain drives and take time away from the Saints, which ultimately left too much time on the clock for Drew Brees.
The Playcalling is Hamstrung By a Lack of Faith in Freeman
Aug 8, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinatorMike Sullivan
talks with quarterback Josh Freeman (5) during the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
We can doubt the playcalling all we want, but also consider this.
If Josh Freeman was better, would the playcalling be better, too?
Not having a player you can trust under center limits the amount of available plays to be called, and the amount of routes and throws you trust him to make. Think of how many more plays the Bucs could make if they trusted Josh Freeman to make great decisions and accurate throws. They could spread the field and allow Freeman time and space to move the ball down the field, keeping the running game involved heavily to provide balance and set up play action passes.
You can make an excuse for Freeman and say his coaching staff doesn’t trust him and never gives him a chance, but he proved in 2011 that he was turnover prone and not very accurate, and he has failed to consistently prove to his new coaches that he’s any better than the player we saw in 2011. He’s got much better talent around him, and the same, awful stretches of football continue.
Furthermore, in late game situations where completions are needed to keep the clock running and put the game out of reach, you can’t rely on your quarterback and are forced into an entirely predictable offense.
Think back to the fourth quarter of the game against the Saints, when Josh Freeman threw a pass that didn’t even reach the feet of Kevin Ogletree. This is the kind of throw that is unacceptable in a late-game situation where milking the clock and chewing up yards are the only priorities.
So the team is forced to run the ball in obvious running situations, and many pass plays are limited by Freeman’s inability to survey the field and consider multiple targets while in the pocket.
I have defended Josh Freeman, and thrown my support behind the talent he obviously possesses. I also have commented on how his coaching staff don’t seem to support him or put him in positions to succeed.
But he’s still given enough opportunities to prove his doubters (both within One Buc Place and elsewhere) wrong. He has failed to deliver.
It’s still early in this season, which is why this article is titled “No More Excuses” and not “Bench Josh Freeman.” The talent is there to turn this season around and prove to the fans, media, and his teammates that he’s actually a decent quarterback. But at this point, the continued stretches of negative play and game-changing mistakes are his to fix, not to explain away.
The time for excuses is over. A roster full of Pro Bowlers and promising talent can’t be led by a quarterback with a resume covered in the word “If.”