FOXBORO, Mass. — Sunday won’t be easy for the home team.
Or maybe it will be. That really all depends on the signal caller on the opposing team.
Josh Freeman has been an enigma through his first five years in the NFL. He had a rough rookie season, an impressive second year, a tough 2011, a promising fourth season and he has the beginnings of another struggle in 2013. After 2010, many people, including myself, would have sworn the real Freeman was the one who threw for 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions and completed 61.4 percent of his passes.
That hasn’t been the case, though. And so far in 2013, Freeman may be playing the worst football of his career.
His numbers look downright TIm Tebow-esque. He’s completing 45.3 percent of his passes for 335 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. His completion percentage should probably be higher — his targets have dropped six passes already this season — but he should also have more interceptions.
His turnovers could shoot up against the Patriots. New England has a smart defense, that will read Freeman’s eyes as they target in on his first read. The Tampa Bay quarterback has a tendency to stare down his targets.
Freeman has a big arm and takes plenty of risks out on the field. He’s been lucky to avoid big mistakes as the Buccaneers have kept their first two losses close. If the Buccaneers are going to beat the Patriots, he has to keep avoiding mistakes and limit those risks.
Some would (and have) argue Freeman’s numbers would look a lot better if his 73-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson had not been called back due to illegal formation. Sure, the numbers certainly would. But that’s ignoring the fact that it was Jackson’s strength and size that made the completion possible in the first place and that Freeman’s pass was severely underthrown, to the point that Jackson nearly had to come to a complete stop to make the grab at all.
Freeman’s not a terrible quarterback, but as it stands, he’s a weak spot on a team that could easily be 2-0 and competing in the extremely difficult NFC with a better signal caller. There are times Freeman still displays the skills that made him so good in 2010. But the 6-foot-6, 248-pound quarterback has serious accuracy issues.
New Englanders aren’t used to reading this, but the Patriots’ secondary is shaping up to be very good this season. They have shown to be very opportunistic so far when dealing with inaccuracy.
In the fourth quarter of last Thursday night’s Jets-Patriots matchup, New England’s secondary picked off Geno Smith three times. The first two throws were decent from Smith, the last was awful. But the Patriots made great plays on all three to bring in for turnovers.
They match up well with a Bucs team that has become very familiar to the Patriots’ defense. Aqib Talib knows them best, after having spent the beginning of 2012 in Tampa Bay before being traded to New England. He got to know them better this summer when the Bucs came to Foxboro to spend a week of training camp with the Patriots.
Talib will likely spend much of Sunday lined up across from Jackson. He’s the biggest cornerback on the Patriots’ roster and the one best suited to take on the 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver, regardless of where he lines up, which is, surprisingly, in the slot pretty often in three-receiver sets.
Mike Williams and Kevin Ogletree are big, physical receivers who will likely be matched up against Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington. Devin McCourty‘s role as centerfielder will be important in this matchup. If any of those receivers start breaking deep, McCourty will help out over the top.
Those three receivers would look much more daunting if they had a better quarterback to serve the football up, though. Freeman has a tendency to get antsy in the pocket. And if the Patriots are able to get pressure on Freeman (maybe even blitzing the linebackers a few times), his targets won’t have time to get open against New England’s improving secondary.
Maybe my opinion of Freeman is clouded by his unimpressive performance against New England during joint practices this summer. But if the Kansas State product continues playing like he has this season, New England will win big over Tampa Bay. But if Freeman can go from showing sparks of greatness, to putting together an entire game, the Buccaneers could absolutely upset the Patriots in New England. They have the defense, receivers, running back and offensive line. At this point, it’s on Freeman’s shoulders, especially his right one, to carry Tampa Bay to victory.