GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 20: Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passes in the second half against the Green Bay Packers on November 20,2011 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The Ben Roethlisberger - Josh Freeman comparisons come naturally when observing the two players' early years. They were both scrambling quarterbacks, impossible to bring down and creating spectacular plays outside of the structure of the offense. Last year, Freeman looked like Ben Roethlisberger, except he took much better care of the football.
Of course, this year Josh Freeman has looked nothing like Ben Roethlisberger of old. Instead, he's been forced to stay in the pocket and has neglected to use his scrambling ability. That has happened because of his own desire to be a pocket quarterback, which is good for his long-term development, and opponents deliberate striving to keep him in the pocket. That's not the sum of his problems, but his part of it.
And in this case, his 2011 season is starting to look a lot like Ben Roethlisberger's 2006 season.
In 2006 Roethlisberger was coming off a Super Bowl win (in which he played possibly his worst game as a pro), but he encountered several offseason problems that limited his practice time. First there was a much-publicized motorcycle accident that saw him suffer life-threatening injuries. Then he had to undergo an emergency appendectomy, forcing him to miss the first game of the season.
The result: in his third season as a professional, Ben Roethlisberger had easily his worst season of his career. The big quarterback threw 18 touchdowns to a massive 23 interceptions, and he added some 5 interceptions to the mix. Roethlisberger still passed for a respectable number of yards per attempt with 7.5 yards per attempt - but that was offset by a rather disastrous 46 sacks. His advanced stats actually look a little more favorable because of a very tuogh schedule, ranking him 15th in DVOA on the season. But this was clearly Roethlisberger's worst season.
|2010 Josh Freeman||236||378||62.4%||2,516||11||15||6.7||16||10|
|2010 Freeman 16 game pro-rated||378||605||62.5%||4,026||18||24||6.7||26||16|
Roethlisberger's 2006 season looks surprisingly similar to Josh Freeman's 2011 season. Freeman is completing a higher percentage of his passes for fewer yards per attempt, but he's on track to throw 18 touchdowns to 24 interceptions - extremely similar to Roethlisberger's 2006 numbers. And while Roethlisberger threw for more yards per attempt, Freeman is throwing significantly more passes and is getting sacked far less.
But the similarities are striking. Both are big QBs who lived off scrambles and plays outside of the pocket who struggled in their third year in the league. And while I can't speak with authority to Roethlisberger's 2006 season, watching some of the highlights on NFL.com it seems like he was transitioning to being a pocket QB that season, and that played a role in his struggles.
The good news for Bucs fan is that this comparison suggests that Freeman will improve and get his problems fixed. Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL these days, and has successfully turned himself into a pocket quarterback.
The question is, can Josh Freeman do the same or was last year simply a fluke? I'm convinced that Josh Freeman can come out of his slump and turn himself into a very good NFL QB. But he needs to fix several issues to get there.