Football Outsiders' Rivers McCown examined deep passes today. Some McCowns aren't bad quarterbacks. They're good football writers. In any case, McCown looked at players who are really, really bad at throwing deep passes. Surprisingly, two of Josh Freeman's seasons make the list: 2009 and 2011. Not surprisingly the two worst years of his career.
So we come to a table. And tables are always fun, especially so when they deal with DVOA (which is basically an efficiency measurement). Josh Freeman's DVOA by pass length:
I'm not sure what to make of this, and neither is Rivers McCown. Can you spot a pattern here? Even if you discount 2009, which is probably fair, I can't. Freeman was good on deep balls in 2010 and 2012, but he wasn't in 2011. And he's actually been steadily getting worse at short passes.
Outside of Jackson coming in last year, there hasn't much turnover in Freeman's offense. Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, and Kellen Winslow were constants in 2010 and 2011. Winslow declined heavily and Dallas Clark wasn't the answer -- is Freeman's large drop in Short DVOA since 2010 all because he has no tight end? Williams said that part of the problem in 2012 was that receivers didn't know when to break their routes off. Is that something that gets fixed?
Talent has something to do with it, probably. We can basically discount 2009 as a clusterfuck of massive proportions. Freeman had no running game and his top receiver was a gimpy Antonio Bryant who would never play in the NFL again due to knee injuries. Kellen Winslow was pretty good that season, but Freeman had no clue what he was doing. He spent the entire offseason learning one system, and then seeing that scrapped literally two weeks before the regular season started. Nothing about that season was remotely fair to any player.
2010 saw the emergence of a running game based on Legarrette Blount, Kellen Winslow becoming the focal point of the passing attack and Mike Williams doing his best acrobats' impression every Sunday. The fact that Freeman relied heavily on scrambles and plays outside of the structure of the system helped, although in part that success was a result of random chance, too.
In 2011, though, the CBA conflict shortened the offseason, Winslow had clearly lost a step, Blount wasn't the player he was the year before (and added a fumbling problem) and Mike Williams struggled to perform up to the same level, as well. Plus, Freeman simply played worse in many respects.
2012 was relatively successful, but turned messy at the end of the season. Freeman really struggled with his accuracy on short routes, players didn't know their routes -- and yet he was relatively productive. Having Vincent Jackson, Doug Martin and a well-performing Mike Williams helped, but there was no legitimate third receiving option that season and everyone was still learning a new system. Then again, most advanced stats really don't like his 2012 season.
Ultimately, Josh Freeman may be the biggest enigma in the NFL right now. He has all the tools to be a very good quarterback and his coaches are certainly positive. We just don't know if he's going to take that next step. No one does. I hate that kind of conclusion, but it's all we're going to get for now.
Here's another question, and I think it's a valid one: if Josh Freeman does perform well in 2013 and improves on his flaws, can we expect him to continue that going forward? So far his inconsistency has been the one consistent aspect of his game, and Freeman wouldn't be the first quarterback to regress after a good season.
Someone has found a solution for him, though. All he has to do is find himself a celebrity girlfriend.