The folks over at Pro Football Focus have dug up another nugget of information on the Bucs: according to their game charting, Josh Freeman was pressured on 40.99% of all his dropbacks, which was second in the league behind Jay Cutler's 41.42%. My own charting revealed a similar but lower number for Josh Freeman (38.18%), but I don't have league-wide numbers to compare that to. The difference likely lies a slight difference definition of a quarterback pressure. While the number itself isn't all that revealing, the fact that it was second in the league is.
Josh Freeman had a terrific year and was arguably a top 10 quarterback. As if his year wasn't impressive enough for a second-year quarterback, he also did it with poor pass protection. In fact, looking at traditional stats you wouldn't suspect that Freeman had poor protection - the Bucs gave up just 30 sacks, and they were 13th in Adjusted Sack Rate according to Football Outsiders. But none of those statistics are reliable measures of an offensive's line's quality of pass protection if the quarterback, receivers and offensive coordinator know what he's doing. A good quarterback will get rid of the ball before he's sacked, and Josh Freeman did plenty of that during the season. And if the wide receivers understand pass pressure and the offensive coordinator has built in hot routes (which they all do), then the quarterback can even complete passes under heavy pressure. Again, something Josh Freeman did plenty of last season. I can't count the amount of times he threw off his back foot under heavy pressure last season, mostly because I'd have to go back and watch every snap again to count that.
Looking at the Bucs offensive line last year, it isn't surprising that the pass protection wasn't all that good. Donald Penn was the only 16-game starter, and sack-artist Jeremy Trueblood played at right tackle for 7 games too many. The interior offensive line was constantly changing, with 6 different players starting at various times throughout the season. Throw in the fact that two rookies started a significant number of games, and the combination is a recipe for disaster. All the more surprising, then, that the Bucs still produced. And perhaps even more surprising that the Bucs didn't go out and improve their offensive line in the draft. I hope the addition of Vikings O-line coach Pat Morris and a more stable line will help the Bucs keep bodies off Freeman next season, because it doesn't seem like there will be another option.