The future of this franchise hinges on Josh Freeman's development. This is no secret to anyone of course, but it 's cause for concern: if Freeman's development stalls, the Bucs will be losing for the next two or three seasons at the least as they try to salvage their first-round QB. Then they'll either go back to playing QB roulette as they did during the Gruden years, or they'll have to try the same experiment with another young QB. And if that backfires...well, you get the picture.
With the fans' hopes and dreams resting on his back, Freeman had a season that inspired but also had some people despairing. With 18 interceptions in just 290 attempts Freeman had a historically high interception rate, higher than either of the other two rookies. His accuracy and decision making has to be in question because of that, and his lack of accuracy and poor decision making were knocks on him in college as well - so this could be a consistent problem that won't go away soon. His outstanding work ethic, pre-draft concerns over it notwithstanding, will hopefully help him overcome this obstacle, but the decision making and accuracy remain problems, and Freeman even acknowledged this in an interview with Pewter Report:
"No doubt. It goes back to accuracy. I’m a year older and I’ve got another year in the system. I know the offense better. A lot of interceptions come and a lot of inaccuracy comes from being unsure and indecisive. You’re hanging in the pocket and you see a guy flash and then you get it out too late it’s going to be picked. If you understand the offense then you know where guys are going to be then you can set up your feet at that point and know when guys are going to break and put it right on them."
He knows what the problem is and he's been working hard at it. This quote makes it seem like he had little idea what he was doing last year: no mention of progressions, just surveying the field and seeing someone flash - and then throwing the ball late. If that was the case, then there's no reason to believe it won't be a lot better this year as he's spent a lot of time studying the playbook. And if Freeman throws fewer picks, the Bucs will obviously have a better chance of winning games. But was that really the biggest reason for the interceptions, or was it inaccuracy or perhaps even receivers? I wanted to find that out, so I looked at all the interceptions Freeman threw last year. I'll take a look at the first 6 after the jump to keep it readable, and do the other 12 picks at later points.
Quick note: for Personnel I'll note the number of receivers, running backs and TEs. I'll note Kellen Winslow as TE when he's lined up right next to the O-line, as WR when he's lined away from the O-line.
#1: Week 9: Green Bay Packers
Situation: Down 21-14, 1st and 10 at the Bucs 41. 3:01 left in the first half.
Personnel: 2WR, 2RB, 1TE
Play: 2 receivers and the TE release on patterns, Freeman fakes the handoff, both backs run short dumpoff routes. Little pressure and he gets plenty of time to throw the ball. Freeman throws deep left to a perfectly covered Stovall but underthrows the ball and it drops neatly into the hands of Nick Collins.
Analysis: Bad throw on a bad decision. Even if the ball had been thrown perfectly, it's almost impossible for Stovall to come down with the ball there. Looks like no one was open and he should've checked it down to one of the backs.
#2: Week 10: @Miami Dolphins
Situation: Down 9-6, 2nd&12 at the Bucs 4. 1:43 left in the first half.
Personnel: 3WR, 2RB.
Play: Shotgun snap, receivers release on downfield patterns, Freeman throws a perfect ball to Michael Clayton at the first down marker, who gets hit and can't hold onto it on his way down. It then bounces off Clayton into Jason Taylor's eager hands. Play stands after review because it never touched the ground and Clayton wasn't down before it left his hands.
Analysis: Good play by Freeman, nothing wrong with the pass or the decision. Just unlucky.
#3: Week 11: New Orleans Saints
Situation: Tied 7-7, 3rd&4 at the Bucs 31. 5:43 left in the first half.
Personnel: 4WR, 1RB
Play: Shotgun snap, RB stays in to block, receivers release. Pressure on Freeman, who throws to Antonio Bryant - but the ball gets picked off by Malcolm Jenkins after Antonio Bryant slipped during his cut.
Antonio Bryant: Antonio Bryant fell down on his cut while Freeman released the ball, leading to the pick. However, it looked like Jenkins had Bryant well-covered and was looking for that pick, and that that ball should not have been thrown there. So: bad decision, but also partially on the receiver. The throw itself didn't look particularly bad.
#4: Week 11: New Orleans Saints
Situation: Down 24-7, 3rd&5, 7:09 left in the third quarter.
Personnel: 4WR, 1RB
Play: Shotgun snap, RB stays in to block but releases late as a checkdown option. Freeman gets lots of time and the pocker is clean. He throws to Clayton over the middle of the field, but the pass is high and Clayton can't hang on to it with three defenders closing in on him.
Analysis: Clayton was open and the decision wasn't terrible, but Winslow was wide open a few yards back on a crossing route where there was no risk of interceptions. Clayton did get a hand on the ball and it certainly looked catchable, so this is on him too. Conclusion: not a terrible decision, but a better option was available. Still, should not have been a pick and Clayton should've had that ball.
#5: Week 11: New Orleans Saints
Situation: Down 38-7, 1st&10 at the Saints 43, 2:00 left in the game.
Personnel: 3WR, 1TE, 1RB
Play: Shotgun snap, receivers and TE release, RB stays in but doesn't need to block anyone so drifts away for a very short checkdown possibility. Pocket stays clean and Freeman lobs the ball downfield to Michael Clayton who had beaten the corner, but Freeman had missed Chris Reese at safety, who picks it off easily.
Analysis: Clayton had beaten the corner, but it was a bad decision as Reese was free to come in and undercut the route. Clayton sees the ball too late, but doesn't try to make a play on the ball either. Part of that is that Clayton was at full speed and the ball was slightly underthrown, but Clayton should've made an adjustment there and at least prevented the interception. Still, a bad decision and a slightly underthrown ball are the bigger reasons this ball was picked off.
#6: Week 13: @Carolina Panthers
Situation: Down 7-0, 3rd&8 at the Panthers 41. 8:31 left in the second quarter.
Personnel: 4WR, 1RB
Play: Shotgun snap, WRs release, back releases on a crossing pattern. No real pressure on Freeman, who throws a ball that is much too high and off the mark to Stroughter, which gets picked off further down the field by the safety Charles Godfrey.
Analysis: Good decision there, as Stroughter was ahead of the corner and there was no one else around. It's just a really bad throw, and one of 5 interceptions this game.
That was it for this post, tune in next time for the analysis of the next 6 picks and see how Jon Beason feasts off Josh Freeman's throws!