Saturday, January 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Questions about Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman

TAMPA

Roughing the quarterback is a common practice in most NFL cities, off the field as much as on.

So with Josh Freeman's completion percentage at 51.3 (the lowest since his rookie season), talk at water coolers boiled with criticism.

Since his breakout sophomore season of 2010 — 25 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 10-6 record — Freeman, 24, has experienced more aggravation than adulation.

The tipping point might have been last week's 16-10 loss at Dallas, in which he started 6-of-20 before finishing 10-of-28 for 110 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Vincent Jackson, signed during the offseason to be his top receiver, was thrown to seven times. But his only catch, a 27-yarder, came after the fourth quarter's two-minute warning.

First, a disclaimer: This is Freeman's third offensive system in four years. Look at the most successful quarterbacks, and you will discover (perhaps not coincidentally) they have played in the same scheme for numerous years. (Tom Brady, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco come to mind.)

That said, there seems to be a disconnect between Freeman and his receivers under coach Greg Schiano and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan.

Freeman is attempting to execute the offense as directed. But there are important questions.

Why isn't Freeman a bigger part of the offense?

Schiano is big on time of possession. The best way to win that is run the ball. That's why the Bucs called eight runs among nine first-down plays from the start of the third until the two-minute warning. Unless the running game clicks, this puts pressure on the quarterback to convert a pass on third down. The Bucs rank last in the league in third-down conversions at 25.6 percent.

Why doesn't Freeman run the ball like he used to?

Remember, Schiano requires his quarterbacks to wear a knee brace on their front leg, a precaution because it is more vulnerable to injuries. He understands the need to keep quarterbacks healthy. Frankly, running is discouraged for quarterbacks. But if necessary, they must slide.

Can Freeman get the Bucs out of bad plays based on the defensive alignment?

Freeman did this frequently under previous offensive coordinator Greg Olson, and he excelled at it in two-minute situations. The opportunity still exists, Schiano said — on occasion. But there are some "no change" plays.

Why doesn't Freeman move outside the pocket now and then?

Schiano says that is part of Sullivan's offense. But the Bucs haven't done it much. "I've always thought you change the launch point in games just so (defensive players) don't get their ears locked in on one spot," Schiano said. "It probably can be used more than we have."

• • •

Freeman has had his good moments. He played well in the first half against Carolina until the Bucs shut it down in the second half. He had a good first half against the Giants.

As Sullivan says, the offense is not a finished product and should be more efficient in December than September. It's tough enough to integrate a quarterback into a new system. It's even tougher when that system doesn't emphasize his skills.

Eventually, there has to be a marriage between the two.

Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected] and be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620.

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