The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a few plays, and in the case of Sunday, a few inches away from 6-0. However, the Bucs are sitting at 2-4 and looking up at the Falcons. Tampa Bay has led in every game this season, with their biggest margin of defeating being only 7 points to the Giants and Saints. The Buccaneers have stabilized their run defense this season, allowing only 76 yards a game which is 3rd best in the NFL.
However, as evidenced by the losses to the Giants, Saints and Washington Redskins the pass defense must improve.
For all the talk about Greg Schiano bringing in a power run game, it has been franchise quarterback Josh Freeman who has led the way thus far. At Kansas State, Freeman was “The Guy”. However he went, so went the rest of the team, and Freeman usually didn’t disappoint the Wildcat faithful when it mattered most. Fast forward to this season and the Bucs have had great success when they cut Freeman loose, and with his new favorite toy in WR Vincent Jackson, he has looked very good. Through six games Freeman has thrown for 1,538 yards and 11 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. Against one of the game’s elite quarterbacks in Drew Brees, Freeman matched him throw for throw. Freeman was 24-42 for 420 yards with 3 touchdowns and zero interceptions. He had a fourth touchdown pass to Mike Williams called off at the end of the game that not only ended his team’s chances, but crushed many a fantasy football owner (myself included).
The last two games alone, against the Chiefs and Saints respectively, Freeman has 748 yards passing and 6 touchdowns. During their surprise 10-win season in 2010, it was Freeman at the helm making smart decisions with the football and making winning plays late in games.
Jackson had his best game to date with 216 yards receiving and TE Dallas Clark finally ended his month long sabbatical to snare 5 receptions and a touchdown. If Freeman can continue finding those two, as well as stretching the field with Williams and continuing to develop chemistry with rookie RB Doug Martin, this offense can blossom into something special.
As good as their run defense is the pass defense is equally as porous. With teams shredding the secondary it is going to be up to Freeman to take this team by its collar and pull them through. The pieces are in place on offense, and the coaching staff has shown they trust their young quarterback to take them forward, so the onus falls on Freeman and Co. to step up, which they have.
The playoffs look a long way off at the moment, but a win this week on Thursday Night Football in a primetime game against the Minnesota Vikings could go a long way to setting this team back on track. The vaunted Vikings pass rush will test Freeman’s ability to withstand heat and make quick decisions, but right now he seems to be seeing the game a lot slower and clearer.
If the Buccaneers are going to go anywhere this season it will mean Freeman is leading the way. Just like it was in Manhattan, Kansas, Tampa, Florida is in good hands.