Josh Freeman: Breaking Down the Bucs Signal-Caller at the Midpoint of the Season

J.J. RodriguezContributor IIOctober 23, 2012

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 21:  Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers passes during a game against the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Josh Freeman and the Tampa Bay offense have had a roller coaster season thus far. The first three games were, collectively, not very good.

He threw for 243 yards and two TDs against the Giants, but that game was pancaked between two subpar performances against Carolina and Dallas where he threw for 248 yards and two TDs—combined.

All told, in his first three games, Freeman threw for 491 yards, four TDs and three INTs, while the offense as a whole scored an average of 20 points per game.

However, Freeman and the offense have improved by leaps and bounds over the past three contests, as the Bucs have averaged 29.3 points and nearly 450 yards of total offense per game, with Freeman showing the greatest individual improvement.

Having said that, while many questioned Freeman and his ability to effectively lead this team offensively after a shaky start to the season, I'm left to wonder whether or not offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and head coach Greg Schiano aren't to blame for at least some of the shortcomings early on.

In fact, in reviewing game tape of the past three games versus the Redskins, Chiefs and Saints, it is abundantly clear that there has been a shift in offensive philosophy in comparison to what the Bucs were doing against the Panthers, Giants and Cowboys.

So, how drastic has the apparent shift been?

In the first three games, it's almost as if Freeman's playbook was limited to the table of contents. Everything was very vanilla, receivers ran shorter routes and the coaching staff was not putting Freeman or the offense in a position to win games.

It's almost as if they were more concerned with not losing games.

Conversely, the last three games have been the polar opposite from the first three. Freeman is standing tall, showing better poise and leadership and has been lethal through the air, throwing for 1,047 yards and seven TDs, with an average QBR of 107.7.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt that he's only been sacked three times in the same span, compared to six times in the first three weeks.

At his current rate, Freeman is on pace to throw for more than 4,100 yards and 29 TDs this season—both of which would be career and franchise records.

Not too bad for a guy that many wanted to run out of town a month ago.

The ups and downs with Freeman are what have driven fans crazy since he arrived. One week he can look like Mr. Perfect, only to follow it up with a head-scratching performance the next. This season has certainly been no different.

Was play-calling to blame for the first three games? Maybe to some degree, sure. But there were still plenty of opportunities for Freeman to make a play here and there and, by and large, he failed to do so. This season the Bucs' four losses have been by a combined 22 points, with two decided by six points or less.

All of which begs the question, what happened to the Comeback Kid we saw in 2010?

You know, the Josh Freeman that led the overachieving Bucs to 10 wins with numerous thrilling fourth quarter victories. Back then, Freeman was a wide-eyed 22-year-old who made our future look bright and our general manager look even brighter.

He had the team on his shoulders and the city of Tampa in the palm of his hand.

I'm of the opinion that that Freeman never left. I've been strong in my conviction that he is a tremendous talent—perhaps the most physically-gifted quarterback the Bucs have ever had.

But I'm also cognizant that while the stats and records Freeman will compile in his time here are part of the job and come with the territory, the only number anyone truly cares about are wins.

That and that alone is what will ultimately decide Freeman's lore.


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