Josh Freeman had his worst statistical game of the season on Sunday in New Orleans, and his Buccaneers obviously had their worst day of 2012, losing by more than one score for the first time in a 41-0 defeat. Freeman’s four-pick day was his first outing of the year with more than two interceptions, and only his fourth game with more than one. On paper, it looks nothing like the midseason stretch during which he threw 16 touchdowns against just three interceptions and the Bucs won five of six.
In the estimation of Head Coach Greg Schiano, however, those two extremes aren’t really as far apart as they appear.
It’s very, very hard to win in this league when you lose the turnover margin,” said Schiano. “When you lose it 5-0 it’s almost impossible. At the end of the day that’s what happened and I’m not naive to that. But I do understand, and when I watch some of the technical things Josh is doing well it’s not as far off as it may appear, just like it probably wasn’t as holistic as when we were hitting on all cylinders. We didn’t ‘find it’ [at midseason] and I really don’t think we ‘lost it’ [in December]. It is just the process and we have to keep moving forward and Josh will and we will.”
Freeman, who still has a fine 25-12 TD-INT ratio and is on pace for a team-record 3,966 yards in his first season under Schiano and Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan, thinks of it as an ongoing process as well. And he doesn’t think the process broke down or took a step backward on Sunday despite the difficult loss.
“At the end of the year when we look back and reflect there’s going to be a lot of stuff that we’re going to look at and say, ‘Man, we were that close,’” said Freeman. “But at the same time, this is a new team, it’s a lot of new pieces, new offense, new learning, a lot of learning going on even at this point. So it’s just [a need to] continue to get better. That’s the one thing you have to focus on today – focus on the process, focus on the now, focus on every day improving yourself in every way you possibly can and sustaining that. Continue to push. Even when the season is over continue to study to master your craft. I think that’s the main thing: If everybody continues to improve, everybody takes pride in their work, everybody continues to maintain the attitude to keeping winning a championship as the main thing, I think we’re going to be just fine.”
Many factors go into an offense having a particularly good or bad day, and in a more specific sense, interceptions can be the result of many different variables. To be sure, some of Freeman’s interceptions can be pinned directly on his throws or decision-making, and he actually is willing to take responsibility for all of them, citing his role in ironing out communication problems. But most football fans recognize that some interceptions can be more directly tied to a receiver running a route incorrectly or not adjusting to a ball in the air. Breaking down the film, coaches and players can see that part of the equation even more clearly.
On Monday afternoon, Schiano wasn’t interested in publicly breaking down each of the four picks in New Orleans, but in a general sense he alluded to a variety of factors that has led to turnovers this year, and specifically on Sunday.
“Very rarely is it just one guy’s mistake, right?” said Schiano. “So now you start splitting hairs as you watch the tape. Did he come out of this thing on a good enough angle? One of them was just a pure breakdown in communication, two players saw it differently. That happens. It shouldn’t happen very muc,h but it happens. Some of the other ones, to be frank, we’re down by a lot of points and he’s throwing the ball up hoping somebody can make a play. There’s some though that we need to make sure that we throw and catch and route-run better. But any time you turn the ball over five times, whether it’s 4 interceptions or a sack-fumble, you can’t do it.”