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Josh Freeman was frequently blitzed, but he learned to beat the blitz

According to ESPN, Josh Freeman was blitzed (5 or more rushers) 37.8% of the time, which was 8th in the league. While Mike Sando ties that to 'respect', I wouldn't say that's entirely accurate given the fact that Jake Delhomme, Matt Hasselbeck, Vince Young and Alex Smith are some of the least quarterbacks in the NFL. Instead, this isn't about respect, but about what works best against each player or team. 

This number helps explain in part why Freeman was under pressure so often, even when his offensive line didn't seem to be that bad, at least in pass protection. But the high frequency of blitzes was also caused by Freeman: blitzing him worked. According to Football Outsiders game charting data, he gained 6.8 yards per play when he wasn't blitzed, while he gained 6.3 yards per play when blitzed. Note that I didn't include a couple of plays where the number of rushers could not be identified. 

 

Those 0.5 yards add up to a decent amount, though it's not an earth-shattering difference. And in part this discrepancy is caused by the fact that Pittsburgh and Baltimore were the most frequent blitzers, and those teams are very very good at blitzing. 

What intrigues me most about the numbers is the difference in division rivals' play from the first game to the second game. When the Bucs were in Atlanta, the Falcons blitzed Freeman on 11 of 27 plays, or 41% of the time. When later in the year the Bucs played them at home, the Falcons blitzed Freeman on 13 plays, but he dropped back a whopping 43 times then. That means the Falcons went from blitzing him 41% of the time, to blitzing him 30% of the time.

That's a small sample, of course, but we can see the same change with the Panthers, who went from blitzing 41% to 36%. The Saints went from 53% to 35%, even. Overall, the three teams went from blitzing Freeman 46 out of 99 times, or 46% of the time to blitzing 34 out of 99 times, or 34% of the time. It's still a small sample size and Legarrette Blount's emergence probably had something to do with it, but it's also a sign that these teams didn't think they would be all that successful blitzing Freeman later in the year.