Falcons' Smith: Freeman playing at a "Pro Bowl level"
Falcons coach Mike Smith is quite familiar with the Bucs, having to face them twice a season, but sees something a little bit different in this year's version.
And Smith believes QB Josh Freeman is "playing at a Pro Bowl level." Freeman, who has a 94.6 quarterback rating, including 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions in the Bucs four-game winning streak.
"They're playing very confidently," Smith said today in a teleconference with Tampa Bay media. "It's a very well-coached team in terms of what they do in all three phases. I've been impressed with their ability to stop the run, they're the No. 1 team in the league in terms of run defense. And they're also running the ball extremely well. I've been very impressed with the new parts that they've added, in terms of the running back, Doug Martin, a 1,000 yard rusher. He's a guy that has very good vision, runs well behind his pads, and you're going to have to put multiple pads on him to be able to get him down. Vincent Jackson has been a great addition, and I think Josh Freeman has returned to the form he had two years ago, when, to me, he was playing at a Pro Bowl level. He's playing at a Pro Bowl level right now, he's doing a great job running their offense."
Smith seems to echo the sentiments made by ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski, who said on a recent national conference call Freeman is "on his way to becoming a superstar."
"Josh Freeman is playing phenomenal football," Jaworksi said. "I thought last year he really struggled with his accuracy. As their season wore on and their record got worse, disinterest might be the wrong word, but there just didn't seem to be a fire in that Bucs offense. That usually reflects upon the quarterback, and I thought Josh really struggled last season. Two years ago I thought he was really coming on and had the potential to be a superstar. I'm seeing that superstar potential now come to the forefront. I think he's right now in a very good balanced offense. They run the football. They use the play action, and he has been absolutely phenomenal in the red zone.
"The NFL is now a red zone league. If you set up for field goals, you're going to lose. You need to score touchdowns. The throw he made to Vincent Jackson on Sunday was an absolutely phenomenal throw before the two‑point conversion; and that throw kind of to me crystallized the year that Josh is having. He has the confidence to make that throw and trust his receivers, especially a guy like Vincent Jackson. So clearly I'm seeing a very confident quarterback that trusts the system and trusts the players that surround him.
"I think clearly Freeman is on his way to becoming a superstar in this league. He's got all the attributes you would want in a quarterback. Clearly those are being refined."
-- JOE SMITH