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The Future's Picks: Examining Freeman's 2009 Interceptions Part IV

To conclude this series of posts, I'm going to see if I can find any recurring reasons for Freeman's interceptions. In the previous three posts I tracked all his interceptions and analysed what happened, which has now lead to some not-so-shocking conclusions. With Freeman playing in his first season opener tomorrow, we'll see if he's fixed these problems or not and if teams will try to exploit the same weaknesses that led to his interceptions last year. 

The most glaring of those weaknesses is Freeman's accuracy, in all areas of the field. Of his 18 interceptions last year, 8 occurred because of inaccurate throws. His biggest problem seemed to be ball placement: when he should've been throwing to the outside shoulder of a receiver, he threw it to the inside shoulder and vice versa. This is an accuracy issue, and while Freeman has worked on his accuracy all offseason, it remains to be seen to what extent this is improved. 

That's not all, though. Another 6 interceptions were simply caused by bad decisions: either throwing the ball to a well-covered receiver, or missing a linebacker in the throwing lane. The latter was especially noticeable, and seemed to be a real weakness for Freeman: he focused on a receiver and never saw the entire field. This should be something that he can correct through film study and experience, but if he cannot correct this, he may never be able to function well as an NFL quarterback. 

There's also good news,  however: 4 interceptions were caused by receivers, and a receiver was in part to blame on one other interception. Bryant and Clayton were the offending parties on those throws, and the fact that both of them are gone may mean we see improvement in that area. On the other hand, the fact that our receiving corps is very young and inexperienced may mean that we see them make more mistakes than Clayton and Bryant made last year. However, the fact that Freeman has spent the entire offseason throwing to the receivers hopefully translates into a better understanding between the quarterback and his targets. 

One last thing to examine is the distribution of his interceptions. Football Outsiders did a very short piece on Matt Stafford's interception distribution, noting that an abnormally high amount of his interceptions came on 3rd&5 or longer and in the last 8 minutes of the 4th quarter - presumably in desperation mode, pushing to make something happen. Stafford threw 45% of his picks on 3rd&5 or more, while NFL quarterbacks threw 26% of their picks in that situation. He also threw 35% of his interceptions in desperation mode, while NFL quarterbacks only throw 15% of their interceptions in that situation. The inference is that Stafford would learn to take the checkdown option instead of trying to push it downfield as he matures. Can the same be said for Josh Freeman?

Sadly, I'm going to have to say 'no' here. Now, keep in mind that this is an exceedingly small sample and the distribution of interceptions for both Stafford and Freeman could easily be down to bad luck, but very few of Freeman's interceptions came in that situation where he had to make something happen. Only 3 of his 18 interceptions, or 16.7%, came on 3rd&5 or longer and only 4 interceptions (22.2%) occurred in the final eight minutes of the 4th quarter. The same logic applied to Stafford's interceptions cannot be applied to Freeman's interceptions. Instead, Freeman threw interceptions in a lot of different situations, and there doesn't seem to be a singular situation that he should focus on. Instead, the story of these interceptions is that Freeman needs to mature and improve: he needs to be more accurate, and he needs to make better decisions in all situations.

Now that isn't a shocking conclusion, but I do think this means that he has a longer road to travel than someone like Stafford, and that instead of some relatively simple problems there are some overall problems with the way he plays. This doesn't mean that he can't fix these problems and become a very good quarterback, and the amount of work he put in this offseason shows he's certainly committed and willing to fix these problems. His preseason performance also showed that he had learned from his mistakes the previous year, because what stood out to me was that he refused to make bad decisions even when given the chance. Instead of throwing the ball to covered receivers, he scrambled and tried to make something happen with his legs. If he continues to do that and show that he will not throw stupid interceptions tomorrow, he may have improved the most important aspect of his play: decision-making.