NFL Analysis: Tampa Bay Hopes For Freeman’s Improvement

The arrival of new head coach Greg Schiano for the 2012 season put some life back into a Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise that lived through a disgraceful laydown job by its players to conclude 2011. Now it’s a question of whether that renewed life can translate into wins, and ultimately a playoff berth, in a competitive NFC South.

Quarterback Josh Freeman is as enigmatic as the rest of the team, and that’s probably not a coincidence. Freeman does a good job getting the ball downfield, but he’s erratic in the short passing game and throws too many interceptions. Tampa Bay’s pass protection is good, and the running game, led by outstanding second-year back Doug Martin, keeps defenses honest.

Therefore, there’s no reason for Freeman to keep Bucs fans on a perpetual emotional yo-yo at this stage of his career. He’s got two high-quality targets in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, both of whom can stretch defenses. Freeman has got to find a way to make the short, efficient passes that keep drives alive and defenses fresh.

On the other side of the ball, the Bucs’ big problem is that they don’t pressure the quarterback. At all. This is one of the NFL’s worst teams at generating sacks. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn is another player who should be further along at this stage of his career, and unless he starts breaking down the edge, Tampa Bay is going to keep having problems.

Right now those problems manifest themselves in a pass defense that gives up huge chunks of yardage. The Bucs made a good—and hyped—more to bring in Darrelle Revis from the New York Jets. But even if Revis is healthy at the corner spot, even he can only cover for so long. Eventually someone has to break down the pocket.

Lest this installment of our NFL analysis be too hard on the Tampa defensive line, they do defend the run well. It makes it possible for Schiano to craft a game plan that would produce a victory by controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and then just holding serve on the outside. With talent like Jackson, Williams and Revis, that should be doable.

Saying its doable is one thing, but actually doing it is another. Las Vegas has assigned Tampa Bay an Over/Under win number of 7.5. I can see 8-8, but not much higher, unless any improvement from Freeman is truly spectacular. And if the quarterback does not improve, 6-10, or even 5-11 are within the realm of possibility. Therefore, while I can understand optimism for this team, realism leads me to take the Under. 

NFC South Overview
Atlanta Falcons Preview
New Orleans Saints Preview
Carolina Panthers Preview