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Were Josh Freeman's struggles caused by pressure and a crumbling offensive line?

Josh Freeman wasn't very good at the end of last season, but he played some stellar football earlier in the year for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What's up with that?

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It's national write-about-Josh-Freeman day, I think. Mike Tanier examined Good Josh and Evil Josh earlier today, and now fellow Football Outsiders alumnus Bill Barnwell takes on the story of Josh Freeman. I get why people are interested in Freeman: his 2012 season was full of up and downs, and that's intriguing. Why was he so inconsistent? Why did he look like a world-beater one day, and Blaine Gabbert the next?

Barnwell cycles through a number of possible explanations, before finally landing on what he thinks was the main culprit: pass pressure.

And once that offensive line started to struggle, well, that was the end of Josh Freeman. If I learned anything from watching those five games, it was just how awful Freeman was with a pass rusher bearing down. While Freeman would occasionally sidestep a rusher or step up in the pocket and make a good throw, he would often panic. He would throw off his back foot. He would lob one up and hope for the best, which often was "hope this gets out of bounds so nobody intercepts it." He would even more frequently flutter a difficult-to-catch, end-over-end pass in the vague direction of a receiver, either getting his target laid out or creating an opportunity for a turnover. No quarterback is particularly effective under pressure, but with a pass rusher in the vicinity, Freeman looked like he had signed up for the wrong rec league and expected to play no-blitz flag football.

Part of the problem was, of course, the offensive line at the end of the season. Jamon Meredith and Ted Larsen are nice backups, but once you start plugging them into the regular lineup they wear down. Meredith especially struggled in pass protection. That should be partially solved this year with the return of two Pro Bowl guards. But is a quarterback who needs two Pro Bowl guards to function the kind of quarterback you want to give a big extension? Barnwell thinks Freeman simply has to get better at dealing with pressure, too.

And this is why Josh Freeman won't get a contract extension this year, despite Pewter Report's protestations. For Josh Freeman to be a true franchise quarterback, he must improve this year. And right now, we just can't know whether he will. Giving him a contract extension now would simply tie the Bucs' hands for three years (at least). You don't want that situation, because that turns into what the Jets now have with Mark Sanchez.

Meanwhile paying Freeman after the season if he does improve won't be too big of a burden. He has this season to go out and prove himself. If he can do that, everybody's happy and he's a whole lot richer. If he can't do that, the Bucs will have to move on. And that's going to be another tough road.

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