The previous two installments were mainly about things Josh Freeman could directly control: being in the pocket and accuracy. This article is about something he can't control, like the first installment on the running game. We're going to talk about the receivers, and how they are hurting Josh Freeman.
The most obvious way in which they are hurting him is by dropping the ball. The Bucs lead the league in drops according to ESPN. Mike Williams, who is having a nice little sophomore slump, has five of them. It's hard to play well when even your on-target passes aren't getting home, so that obviously hurts Josh Freeman. But his receivers are hurting him in less obvious ways as well.
The first major problem is a lack of speed. Speed lifts the top off a defense - it forces the safeties to play further back, widening the hole behind the linebackers and allowing more yards after catch. Against the Bucs the safeties can stay close to the line of scrimmage without much fear of being burned deep. The only player with deep speed on this team is Arrelious Benn - and he is off the field for the majority of passing plays.
Another issue is the fact that receivers aren't doing much with the balls they do get. While some of that isn't necessarily their fault, no Bucs receiver has more than 137 yards after catch this season. Wes Welker, the league leader in yards after catch, has 392. Arrelious Benn is the Bucs' highest-ranked receiver with 137 yards after catch on just 15 catches - and he's ranked 36th in the NFL. Meanwhile, Kellen Winslow has just 98 yards after catch on 31 catches, while Mike Williams has 85 on the same number of catches.
Some of that isn't the receivers' fault, as the way they're being used and Josh Freeman's ball placement certainly affect this stat - but no receiver has really made a lot of people miss and picked up extra yardage.
But the biggest problem this year is that the Bucs have no one who is making tough catches while he's being covered. Last season the Bucs had both Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow finding ways to make tough catches in tight coverage. Williams especially excelled at plucking the ball out of the air over the heads of cornerbacks. But this year every ball into tight coverage has fallen to the ground, or worse: into the hands of a defensive back.
This may be the biggest problem for Freeman. Last season he was used to forcing balls to Winslow and Williams, and they would go up and make tough catches. That's a productive formula. But while Freeman is still forcing those balls, the receivers aren't catching them. Combine that
Compare that with another young quarterback who has had a terrific year so far: Matthew Stafford. He has had issues of his own, but he has three receivers who can go up and make very tough catches: Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and the amazing Calvin Johnson. If Freeman had that receiving core he'd look much better - and he wouldn't be throwing so many interceptions in the red zone. But alas, he doesn't - and the current state of the receiving core is hurting him.