Defending Josh Freeman: It’s Not His Fault

Josh Freeman has been criticized for his quarterback play, but is it warranted?

The story was more than likely just a victim of May speculation, but at one point, it felt very real. Greg Schiano, head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, claimed to be open to starting rookie Mike Glennon this season at quarterback, an interesting revelation considering starter Josh Freeman’s play and age.

It was more of a shock to the fantasy football world, as Freeman has been start-worthy in the fake sport at many points of his brief career, but the statement wasn’t all that surprising to many film studiers. Freeman has struggled at times, playing as inconsistent as almost any NFL signal caller.

Now that it’s July and more important things are happening throughout the league, the story seems to have passed over. That, and Schiano was probably trying to motivate Freeman in some way. Freeman’s the guy, and it’s his job to lose. But even so, should Josh Freeman be getting that sort of criticism?

The Bucs With Freeman

Records aside, let’s take a look at how effective the Bucs have been on offense since Freeman’s 2009 rookie season. The numbers I’ll use fall under numberFire’s adjusted net expected points per play metric, which measures the impact an offense has in relation to an average squad. If, for instance, the Bucs had a negative value in Adj NEP/P, they were essentially losing points for the overall team throughout the season on each play. The “adjusted” piece simply takes matchup strength into consideration.

Below is a table outlining the Buccaneers Rush NEP/P, Pass NEP/P and Total NEP/P and rank within the categories over the last four years with Freeman.

YearAdj. Pass NEP/PRankAdj. Rush NEP/PRankAdj. Total NEP/PRank

As you can see, the offense has been a complete roller coaster ride with Freeman. But take notice that last year was the first time the offense ran the ball more effectively than they threw it. Freeman has already had to deal with two last-ranked rushing attacks in just four NFL seasons, something any quarterback would struggle with.

His sophomore season was the most effective, which isn’t surprising considering his 25:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The Bucs had their only winning season with Freeman that year, finishing 10-6 and just missing the playoffs.

Overall though, I’d say that, considering circumstances, Freeman hasn’t been all that bad. Could you imagine what Christian Ponder’s play would be like without a top running game? Last season the Vikings were third in adjusted rushing net expected points per play, but finished 16th in passing. Or how about Joe Flacco? In 2012, the Ravens ranked 18th in passing efficiency, but were 12th in rushing on a per play basis. Those metrics are nearly identical to how the Bucs performed on offense.

The difference? Defense.

Since Freeman became quarterback in 2009, the Bucs defense has been bad. On a per play basis, they’ve ranked 23rd, 23rd, 32nd and 23rd in efficiency from 2009 through 2012 respectively. It’s odd that they’ve fallen in the 23 spot three times, but regardless, you can see what Freeman’s been working with. Flacco doesn’t get that. Even Ponder doesn’t get that. But Freeman does, and it’s his fault?

Freeman’s Individual Numbers

The running game has been worse than the passing one has in Tampa Bay since Freeman’s rookie season, but how does he, individually, square up against other passers?

YearPass NEP/PRank
2009-.1325th of 27
2010.158th of 30
2011-.0724th of 29
2012.0813th of 30

Numbers based on quarterbacks with 300-plus pass attempts

Freeman’s had a negative passing net expected points per play value in two of his four seasons, meaning an average passer would've done better in a similar situation. But he did rank in the top half among 300-plus attempt passers during the other two. The numbers match up well with what was found of the Bucs as a team, and you’d expect that type of connection considering the quarterback position controls the passing.

One thing I found interesting while looking at the individual scores was how Freeman ranked versus fellow 2009 draft selection, Matthew Stafford. The Lions passer has had three seasons of 300-plus attempts, and has ranked 26th of 27, 8th of 29 and 16th of 30 in passing net expected points per play. In other words, Freeman has outplayed Matthew Stafford on a per play basis in two of the three seasons where they’ve both had 300 or more pass attempts.

Freeman is being pushed by a backup. Matthew Stafford just signed a contract extension.

Can we please stop?

The Buccaneers Future

Josh Freeman is by no means a superstar quarterback, but he certainly isn’t the sole reason for the Buccaneers lack of success over the last four seasons. They’ve been more than miserable on defense, and up until last season, the running game was non-existent. Freeman was destined to fail.

With all of their offseason moves, it seems like this could be the year to fairly judge the Buccaneers passer. Just don’t go into the season thinking failure, because Josh Freeman doesn’t deserve that tag.