Two weeks ago Lee wrote a story about what was wrong with Josh Freeman. That seems a lot more poignant right now. In a year when dozens of quarterback records are being broken or about to be broken, Josh Freeman is going through one incredible regression. One year after throwing six interceptions, he has thrown that many in just five games.
That was also a big reason why the Bucs failed to dent the San Francisco defense yesterday. This was the game when the Bucs tried to win by handing the ball to their star quarterback, and he came up short. That pick-six he threw early in the game may have been the most important play in the game, as it gave the 49ers a 14-3 lead. The interception on the next drive probably sealed the game for good. But looking at only interceptions is a little misleading, as they happen for many different reasons. Freeman has had a few caused by off-balance throws, by bad reads and by not being on the same page as his receivers. The bigger problem is that he has failed to consistently lead scoring drives.
Freeman has especially failed to convert in the red zone. This showed up again against the 49ers, as Freeman drove his team down to the red zone but stalled as the Bucs were forced to settle for a field goal. But Freeman has been inefficient in getting the team to the red zone in the first place, as the quarterback is throwing for just 6.5 yards per attempt this year. That ranks just 25th among quarterbacks with at least 14 passes per game.
This isn't an indictment of Freeman in the long term. It just means that he isn't ready yet to take over the reigns right now. Clearly this lack of an offseason hurt him, and he isn't a comfortable quarterback right now. He does suffer from Mike Williams' apparent sophomore slump, and outside of Preston Parker no receivers seem to be playing well. This development is certainly a disappointment as I expected Freeman to take the next step after his terrific end to last season, but he hasn't managed to do that so far.
And this means the Bucs have to go back to the basics. They cannot abandon the run from here on out - not until Freeman becomes a consistent quarterback again. The Bucs have done a terrific job of getting their running game going with Legarrette Blount, but the blocking has been a big part of that as well. The Bucs have figured out what plays they need to run over and over again to have success on the ground: Power and Iso Lead Weak. Now they need to run those until a defense shows they can stop those plays.
To have success on offense, the Bucs most forego the thought of being an explosive, pass-happy offense. That may be where the league is headed, but the Bucs cannot get there yet. To win games, they have to play like the Atlanta Falcons did the past years: rely on the running game, and have the quarterback make throws when needed. Run Legarrette Blount, and have Freeman convert third downs and pick up chunks of yardage on play-action passes. But don't turn this into a passing team. They aren't ready for that.