On Josh Freeman and the deep ball, give it time
Though questions about accuracy are often asked about Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman, the numbers show he’s been a more accurate passer each year. His completion percentage has risen in each of his three seasons, including in 2011, when he had his worst overall performance as a pro.
During offseason workouts, he has been consistently accurate on short and intermediate throws – the ones that constitute a majority of a quarterback’s attempts.
But if there was anything to nitpick about Freeman during this week’s offseason-ending minicamp, it would be his hit-and-miss accuracy on deep balls. Simply put, Freeman missed a few too many easy deep throws, plays that could have resulted in touchdowns.
The bigger issue: Should you be worried? The answer, for now, is no.
First, we’ll let coach Greg Schiano explain why he’s not terribly concerned.
“Your return on those shots is not going to be nearly as high as it is on your intermediate and shorter passing game,” Schiano said. “You’ll hit some, and he’s hit a couple, then he’s missed a couple. That’s really the risk and return on shot plays. As I always talk about with our team and our staff, one of those plays takes away (the need for) a lot of plays, a lot of execution, a lot of mistakes. You don’t have to deal with the rest of it.”
This is a very true statement.
Schiano is right when he says the downfield throws are low-percentage passes. But, the one criticism here is that some of the throws we saw Freeman miss this week were intended for fairly wide-open receivers. But, generally speaking, you’re going to complete fewer deep balls than other types of passes.
To get back to the specific question at hand – how big is this problem – here are a few reasons why no one at One Buc Place seems to be obsessing over this.
For starters, Freeman is learning a new offense, and it’s hard to imagine that isn’t having at least some impact. He’s also working with a new No. 1 receiver, Vincent Jackson, for whom many of the incomplete deep passes were intended. Given some time, it’s possible Freeman will grow more comfortable and that will presumably have a positive impact on his accuracy.
Another point: There’s a relatively easy fix to this. Oftentimes, Freeman made the mistake of trying to throw the ball out in front of his receivers, hoping they would be able to run underneath it and catch it on the run. That’s all well and good, but there’s often a finite amount of real estate as you near the end zone.
Considering many of these “shot plays” are going to be thrown to Jackson and Mike Williams – both of whom often will have size advantages over defenders – Freeman simply needs to give them a chance on these balls. If that means using “back-shoulder” throws or jump balls, the odds are going to be in the Bucs’ favor. Jackson has strong hands and is not a hair shorter than 6-5. Williams, who is 6-2, has shown an ability to win jump balls in the past.
Over time, the hope is that Freeman will make it a priority to give them a legitimate chance to come down with these balls. If they do, the Bucs will have a chance to win some games. Because, as Schiano said, even the occasional downfield hookup can cover up a lot of other warts because it’s probably going to put points on the scoreboard.