What the Numbers Say About Josh Freeman’s Debut With the Vikings
I had a business economics professor in college that couldn’t do a thing to keep me entertained during his lectures. One night a week for three hours, I went to his class and learned all there was to learn about price elasticity, economic cycles and supply and demand. It was school and it wasn’t an annoying subject, which is fine, but he sounded like Mr. Dewey from Saved By the Bell. Exactly like Mr. Dewey.
Each week, I tried to find every excuse to not go to the class. He paid attention to attendance though, and would hit you up with a grade drop if you missed a certain number of classes. In other words, I was forced to listen to a monotone teacher talk about economics for three hours every single week, even though I was the one partially paying for his salary.
It was brutal. But I’ll tell you what – I’d sit through one of those lectures instead of having to re-watch the Monday Night Football game between the Vikings and Giants. I would. I’ll even take double the amount of notes I would’ve anyway. That’s how bad it was last night. That’s how bad Josh Freeman was last night.
Overthrowing wide receivers and missing a wide open Adrian Peterson multiples times was the norm for Freeman in his Vikings debut. I had never seen anything like it. Ever. How could a once-promising signal-caller fall to such a dark place? Was it the product of a new system or has Josh Freeman officially made himself the worst non-Blaine Gabbert starter in football? Let’s take a look.
Freeman’s Monday Night
The ex-Buc didn’t just look miserable to the untrained football eye, but he actually ended up with historically bad passing numbers. He’s fortunate the Giants missed takeaway opportunities too, because Freeman’s day could’ve been even worse.
He finished 20 of 53 passing for 190 yards and an interception, looking lost on every drop back. For those of you who like to compare performances to historical ones, here’s a nice little nugget for you: Josh Freeman’s completion percentage against the Giants was tied for fourth-worst in NFL history among quarterbacks who have thrown 50 or more times in a game. Only George Blanda in 1965, Dick Wood in 1966 and our buddy Eli Manning in 2007 have ever completed fewer than 37.74 percent of their passes while throwing the ball at least 50 times. And guys, there have been 438 50-plus attempt quarterback games in NFL history.
Josh Freeman’s rate at hitting receivers was beyond atrocious last night. It was historically dreadful.
Those raw statistics aren’t good enough to tell an entire story though. At numberFire, we look at a metric called net expected points (NEP), which calculates how many points a particular player is adding or losing for his team over the course of a game and season. To get this number, we can look at particular game situations – down and distance, etc. – and determine how many points that offense should score on that drive versus what they actually do score. Each play, as you move toward the opposition’s goal line (or in the Vikings case, away from it), can be attributed to the individual players who affect said play.
We can look at NEP from a passing, rushing and receiving standpoint. In the case of Freeman, we obviously want to look at passing. Entering the game, Freeman had a -21.04 passing NEP total, acquiring that with the Buccaneers. Exiting the game, Freeman’s NEP total dropped to -41.20. In other words, the game would've seen a 20-point swing in the Vikings favor, due to fewer turnovers or more scoring, if an average quarterback – one like Ryan Tannehill – was under center.
With all other things constant, a replacement-level quarterback could have easily won the game for the Vikings last night.
The Vikings Moving Forward
It’s incredibly difficult to quantify how much of Freeman’s performance had to do with a new system versus his honest abilities at the quarterback position. What’s very clear is that head coach Leslie Frazier cared more about getting Freeman reps than just winning that game last night.
Like Jon Gruden kept proclaiming in the booth, there are worse options than Christian Ponder. From an NEP standpoint, Ponder is typically glued towards the bottom of the rankings, but isn’t near Freeman’s 2013 total. If anything, he’s a good hole plugger for the Vikings until Freeman gets to understand the system, if that indeed is the problem.
Another thing to note is the Vikings lack of ground game last night. As I wrote here, Freeman’s success at the quarterback position has come when his offense can run the ball effectively. You could make that argument for a lot of middle-of-the-road passers, but it’s been very black and white metrics-wise with Freeman throughout his career. The Vikings were down for the majority of the game, but Adrian Peterson’s 13 carries against an average front seven (at best) is uncalled for.
There are plenty of fingers to point in Minnesota. I’ll direct my right pointer finger right at Josh Freeman for lacking poise and maturity in the pocket, and for overthrowing receivers like it was his job. But I’ll take my left index finger and point it at Leslie Frazier. If he and the Vikings offense want to have any success, they need to have a more balanced attack with one of the best rushers in football. And they need to recognize when a player – like Freeman – is struggling. It’s not as though his backup option had never seen an NFL field before.
The Vikings are a mess, and Josh Freeman and the coaching staff aren't helping.