Coming off a season-saving victory, who else should we choose to profile except our young gunslinger, QB Josh Freeman? After months and months of overanalyzing his selection in the first round and listening to the talking heads in the media and the Bucaneer fans debate the merits of the pick, Josh Freeman came out and silenced the critics for at least one week, throwing for 205 yds and 3 TDs. Most impressively, with the game and possibly the season on the line, Josh showed the poise few first-time starters show, making huge throws to Clayton and Stroughter en route to a go-ahead score late in the 4th quarter.
Kudos to Niko on the sweet video highlights:
Although I didn't get to watch the game, I did get to go back and watch some video of his performance...
1st half notes:On his first TD pass to Ward, The play was a two-back shotgun bunch formation right. Clayton ran a drag, drawing the RILB to step up; Winslow ran a seam, drawing CB Al Harris with him. This cleared out the right side of the field for Ward on an out route, which coverage-challenged ROLB Aaron Kampman was slow getting over to pick up. A genius call for a brand-new QB, who made a perfect throw in stride to Ward that allowed him to catch and run to the pylon. Simple, but smart and effective.
Trailing 14-7, Freeman made another set of key plays. On 2nd and 10 from the 20, Freeman play fakes nicely and rolls out left, finding Kellen Winslow on the run in stride for a 15 yard gain. Earnest Graham's block on the edge on Al Harris let Freeman roll out of the pocket, and he delivered a hard, straight-lined rope into Winslow's gut as he raced past the first down marker. Just a beautiful, effortless-looking throw on a dime from Josh and executed to perfection by the offense. Two plays later, Green Bay brought an inside blitz from both ILBs, but Josh side-stepped the rush and delivered another strike to an in-stride Derrick Ward, who split the safeties for a 39-yard gain, setting up an eventual touchdown.
However, his performance was not without some warts. Trailing 21-14 with 3 minutes left, Freeman threw a lollipop towards the sideline that SS Nick Collins pulled in for an interception. GR was in a zone coverage rolled to the right and the Bucs ran two WRs left on deep out and corner routes, and the pass was underthrown on the corner route and snared by Collins.
The FG drive before halftime was highlighted Freeman's scramble out of a collapsing pocket inside the 40 for a first down, which stopped the clock. He didn't take the sack and showed surprising speed for a big guy. Heady play. The preceding in route to Stovall was a rocket that was perfectly placed.
2nd half notes: I think his most impressive play all day was his TD pass to Winslow to make the score 28-23. Again in a two-back strong right shotgun formation, the exact same play... WR drag/WR seam/RB out... as the first TD, except Winslow and Clayton traded routes. As the pocket collapsed to his right, Freeman instinctively avoided the rush by rolling to his left while looking down the field the entire time. He put the ball high to Winslow, but in the only place that only Winslow could catch it, and his big receiver made a fine play for the TD. Just amazing he had the instincts and ability to slide away from the rush so quickly at the moment the pocket was breaking on him and maintain his reads. That's an innate skill you just don't teach. That was an encouraging sight.
On the 29-yard pass to Clayton to set up the winning score, Clayton ran a go route that Al Harris covered pretty well, taking away the sideline and remaining deeper. However, more likely by mistake than design, the pass was thrown short and Clayton made the adjustment coming back to the ball for the catch. Kudos to Caddy for picking up the blitzing linebacker up the middle that let Freeman get the pass off.
On the 4th down play to take the lead, the Bucs ran again in the shotgun set...one back, 4 WRs, strong right. Stroughter froze the DB on a hitch and go and Freeman lobbed a great ball to the corner of the end zone for the go ahead score. Appeared to be a tad bit high, but again Freeman put the ball in a place only his WR could get it and Stroughter made a solid catch. For a first-time rookie starter with the game on the line with under 5 min to play, that was as gutsy and clutch as it gets. Nerves of steel.
Overview for Week 10: Cautious optimism. My knock on Freeman coming out of school was his accuracy based on his low career completion percentage, but funny things happen between college and the pros, both for players with high expections who fail and underdogs who prove doubters wrong. It's too early to tell what we're looking at here, but you have to be encouraged by the poise and pocket awareness Josh showed, as well as the nice touch he had on several of his deeper throws along the sidelines and short throws in the back and corners of the end zone. The Dolphins boast one of the worst pass defenses statistically in the NFL, and with Olson's offensive tendencies going towards throwing the football this year, I look for Josh to have more opportunities to make some big plays down the field and continue to build the confidence of his teammates and the Buccaneer fans.