Carolina Panthers Could Face a Josh Freeman-Less Tampa Bay Buccaneers Team

Jimmy GrapponeCorrespondent IDecember 1, 2011

Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman (5) injured his right shoulder on the final play of the game against Tennessee.
Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman (5) injured his right shoulder on the final play of the game against Tennessee.Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Carolina Panthers (3-8) could be facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) on Sunday, minus one of their opponents’ key players: starting quarterback, Josh Freeman.

As reported by the St. Petersburg Times, Freeman sat out part of Wednesday’s practice with an injured right (throwing) shoulder, which he hurt on the Buccaneers’ final offensive play last weekend against the Tennessee Titans (4-7), a botched quarterback sneak attempt on 4th-and-1 in which Freeman bobbled the snap.

Freeman took reps handing off to LeGarrette Blount and Earnest Graham, according to Bucs coach Raheem Morris, but backup quarterback Josh Johnson handled all of the passing duties Wednesday.

“[Freeman] is one of those guys who's going to get all the mental reps, the mental capacity, all that type of thing,” said Morris. “And if he can throw it, then he can throw it. If he can't, then he can't."


Freeman Struggling This Season

Freeman has had a down-year in 2011, throwing 16 interceptions and only 12 touchdowns so far this season, after tossing 25 touchdowns and only six picks last season.

The Bucs quarterback’s 2,715 yards rank 12th in the NFL this season, but his 74.6 quarterback rating is the lowest among the league’s top 20 passers this season.

Not coincidentally, Tampa Bay's precipitous decline—they were 10-6 last season, but have lost five straight—began when Freeman threw four interceptions against the Chicago Bears (7-4) in the London game, and he's thrown nine picks in the four games since.


Panthers Not Going to Change Game Plan

Despite Freeman's questionable status, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said today that whether or not the Tampa Bay starter plays Sunday will not necessarily change their defensive approach to Sunday's game.

"You really attack the way they do things," said Rivera during Wednesday's post-practice presser. "You attack their offensive scheme."

Rivera compared Freeman to his own quarterback, Cam Newton, as a big, athletic guy who can both run and pass the ball well.

However, with LeGarrette Blount healthy and running the ball for over 100 yards in each of the past two games, the Panthers' 28th-ranked rush defense had better be prepared for a steady diet of No. 27 in creamsicle orange.

At the time of this writing, Freeman was not listed on the Tampa Bay injury report.