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Eric Goska column: Bucs QB Freeman's steep slide should give Packers early scoring edge

Nov. 18, 2011
 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011, at Wembley Stadium in London.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) throws a pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011, at Wembley Stadium in London. / David J. Phillip/AP

Thumbs up, thumbs down

Players whose passer ratings have taken the biggest tumble from last year to this year.*

Pts. Player Team
-23.3 Josh Freeman Buccaneers
-21.6 Philip Rivers Chargers
-20.4 Michael Vick Eagles
-18.0 Joe Flacco Ravens
-16.4 Matt Cassel Chiefs

Players whose passer ratings have taken the biggest jump from last year to this year.*

Pts. Player Team
29.5 Aaron Rodgers Packers
15.9 Matt Hasselbeck Seahawks
13.7 Alex Smith 49ers
11.7 Eli Manning Giants
10.4 Drew Brees Saints

*minimum 14 pass attempts per game in both 2010 and 2011

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If there were an award for greatest drop-off in passing performance, Josh Freeman would be the frontrunner to take home that honor.

Freeman, a third-year quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has seen his passer rating plummet. The slide from last year to this year is the greatest among quarterbacks who have thrown enough passes in both years to qualify for ranking.

Packers fans might remember Freeman as the rookie who beat Green Bay 38-28 in Tampa on Nov. 8, 2009. With his entire resume consisting of just four pass attempts and zero starts, the 21-year-old fired three touchdown passes in his debut including two in a 21-point fourth quarter that doomed the Pack.

The Buccaneers, youíll recall, weíre winless (0-7) before hosting Green Bay that season. Freeman became the first rookie quarterback to defeat the Packers in his first NFL start since the Eaglesí Mike Boryla did it in 1974.

Freeman is also the quarterback who flashed such promise last year as a sophomore. He compiled a passer rating of 95.9, sixth best in the NFL.

His 3,451 yards passing were the fourth most in team history. His 25 touchdown passes came up just short of breaking Brad Johnsonís club record of 26.

Six times he had a passer rating of greater than 100. Six times the Buccaneers won.

Freeman started every game and led Tampa Bay (10-6) to within a whisker of the playoffs. Green Bay claimed the NFCís sixth seed as it prevailed in a tie breaker with the Buccaneers and Giants based on strength of victory.

Today Freeman, with a passer rating of 72.6, resides with the Ramsí Sam Bradford, the Coltsí Curtis Painter and others near the bottom of the ratings pool. Though heís not dead last, the difference between his rating a year ago and this season (-23.3) is the largest in a negative direction among ranked quarterbacks.

Four components factor into passer rating: completion percentage, average gain per attempt, and touchdown and interception percentages. Freeman is one of three passers (Philip Rivers; Michael Vick) who has taken a step back in all four categories.

His completion percentage is slightly off. Last year he hit on 61.4 percent of his attempts; this year heís at 61.2.

His average gain per attempt has fallen by nearly a yard. Instead of producing 7.28 yards per throw, heís slumped to 6.39.

He has struggled to find the end zone. Heís thrown nine touchdown passes putting him on track to throw 16, a number that would fall well short of last season.

Perhaps most troubling: he has been intercepted 13 times including three in the teamís most recent loss, a 37-9 setback to the Texans. Heís on pace to throw 23 which might be enough to lead the league at seasonís end.

Last year, Freeman avoided turnovers through the air (a 1.27 percent interception rate) better than anyone but New Englandís Tom Brady. He threw more than 100 passes without an interception on three separate occasions including ending the season on a run of 109 straight.

Freemanís play has factored into Tampa Bayís slow starts. The Buccaneers have trailed after one quarter in seven of nine games and have been outscored 53-21. They have been outgained 982 yards to 452 in the opening 15 minutes.

Tampa Bay has failed to pick up a first down six times on its nine opening possessions. Itís come away scoreless eight consecutive times after putting up a field goal in the season opener thanks to Sammie Stroughterís 78-yard kickoff return.

Third downs in the early going are problematic if they involve distance. When three or fewer yards are needed, the Bucs are seven of nine (77.8 percent) in the first quarter. Anything longer and the team is two of 20 (10 percent).

Furthermore, Freeman has yet to throw a first-quarter TD pass. His passer rating for the period is an unimpressive 56.7.

Sunday, Freeman duels Aaron Rodgers, the best opening act in football. Rodgers has compiled a first-quarter passer rating of 146.5.

If ever there was a game in which Green Bay might jump to a substantial early lead, this is it. By the time the second quarter rolls around, the Packersí biggest challenge could involve resisting the urge to look ahead to the Lions.

Regular-season series

Overall: Green Bay leads 29-21-1
At Lambeau Field: Packers lead 14-5

Starting quarterbacks

Packers: Aaron Rodgers (36-20 overall; 0-2 vs. Tampa Bay)
Buccaneers: Josh Freeman (17-17; 1-0 vs. Green Bay)

Once a Buccaneer, now a Packer

There are no former Buccaneers on the Packersí roster.

Once a Packer, now a Buccaneer

Running back Kregg Lumpkin (2008) is a former Packer.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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