TAMPA — After suffering through one of his worst games statistically, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman has a lot of room for improvement.
He can be more accurate, having completed only 6-of-20 passes for 39 yards entering the final drive in Sunday's 16-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He can do a better job protecting the ball, having thrown an interception and lost a fumble recovered by tackle Donald Penn. And he can be more resourceful if the helmet communicator goes out, like it did on third and 9 during the final possession when Freeman checked to a run play.
The only thing Freeman doesn't have to work on is gaining the confidence of coach Greg Schiano.
"I have a great trust level with him," Schiano said Monday. "There's not a doubt in my mind he's going to do great this year and beyond. The only thing right now is, like I said, two pretty good outings and then one not so good. Why? There are so many reasons: coaching, playing, I.Ds, techniques. We've got to clean it up."
Schiano took much of the blame for the Bucs' inability to take advantage of their great defensive effort. Tampa Bay sacked Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo four times, forced two fumbles and intercepted him once. They held Dallas to 38 yards rushing on 23 attempts (1.7 average).
But the offensive gameplan under Schiano and coordinator Mike Sullivan — pounding rookie running back Doug Martin inside against eight-man fronts and forcing Freeman to convert passes on third down — played into the Cowboys' hands.
From the start of the third quarter until the two-minute warning, the Bucs had nine first-down plays and ran the ball on eight of them for only 23 yards.
"As you look back, would we like to change a few, Mike and I?" Schiano said. "Sure, we'd like to change a few. As it was going, sometimes I say we were out of synch. We were all out of synch and we were trying to get it calmed down and going and just never really got it.
"When that happens, you look internally and say we just never got it flowing. But then as a head coach, you've got to look at the other side and say they had something to do with that. And we have to be able to, when they're playing at a really high level, have some answers for these guys that we can go to because it doesn't usually take one or two plays and then the guys start cooking again. I didn't do that for them."
Freeman, who played well against the Panthers and Giants, finished 10-of-28 for 110 yards with one touchdown and an interception. His primary target, receiver Vincent Jackson, was targeted seven times Sunday but his only catch, a 27-yarder, came after the two-minute warning.
"Do I think that Josh is capable of doing more things down the field? I do," Schiano said. "They did a good job of taking some of the down-the-field stuff away. The stuff that we hit against the Giants the week before, we didn't quite do it as well this week. You know, we threw some, but we didn't win the battle."
Schiano said Freeman is often allowed to audible out of a bad play. But other times he is given a "no change" play.
"Depending on the play, oftentimes he has a great deal of freedom, a great deal of latitude and then other times it's a call-it-and-run-it," Schiano said, "but most of the time the key is identification and then getting us into a good play or out of a bad play.
"A couple times we were in the right call and didn't execute it the way we were supposed to. A couple times maybe we were in the wrong call, whether we put him in the wrong call with a no change or we didn't change it.
"When you have as tough a day as we did on offense, there's not one reason, you know? There's not one person, there's not one call. There's just a bunch of things."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620. View his blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.