What is “Elite”?

If you didn’t watch the Buccaneers/Panthers game yesterday, sorry dude.

You missed one of the all-time classics in Bucs history.

I asked back at the beginning of the season, Who is Josh Freeman?

Honestly, I still don’t know. But I think we have a better idea.

Josh Freeman is the kid (I say “Kid” because he is six months younger than Dolphins rookie QB Ryan Tannehill) that looked like absolute crap for 3 1/2 quarters of uninspired football yesterday. Right up until he decided to go all comeback kid (a la his rookie year) and lead the Bucs on three late scoring drives including a beautifully managed 80 yard TD drive with 53 seconds to go with no time-outs remaining down by 8.

When Doug Martin’s TD run was ruled a fumble (there is no way on earth he wasn’t across the goal line) and the Panthers drove the field and scored to go up 11 with six minutes left, I assumed (wrongly) that the game was over.

Josh Freeman took over. Where he had looked lost earlier in the game, he was decisive. Where he looked inaccurate for three and a half quarters, he was on the money. The TD he threw to Vincent Jackson with 11 seconds to go in the game was a freaking thing of beauty.

That isn’t even counting the bullet he threw to Jackson for the game-tying 2pt conversion, or the nugget he laid in to Dallas Clark to win it in OT.

I am still not sure we know exactly who Josh Freeman is. There is clearly good Josh, and bad Josh. Bad Josh throws balls into coverage, or out of bounds where no receiver on earth can make a play. Good Josh was also present. He was the guy who led the Bucs back from an 11 pt deficit with no time outs and no room for error.

In my post about Who is Josh Freeman, I pointed out some of the QBs that were taken before him in the ’09 draft (Sanchez and Stafford). At this point, Josh Freeman is a better QB than both. It got me thinking, who isn’t Josh Freeman better than? And is he Elite, is he average, or is he somewhere in between?

Here are the top 10 QBs according to ESPN.com:

1 Aaron Rodgers, QB 107.3
2 Peyton Manning, QB 106.2
3 Alex Smith, QB 104.1
4 Tom Brady, QB 102.6
5 Robert Griffin III, QB 101.0
6 Ben Roethlisberger, QB 100.0
7 Drew Brees, QB 99.8
8 Matt Schaub, QB 96.8
9 Matt Ryan, QB 94.8
10 Josh Freeman, QB 94.6

I would say that on the list above, Aaron Rogers, Payton Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Rothlisberger, Drew Brees and Matt Schaub are “better” than Josh Freeman.That puts Freeman ahead of the like so Eli Manning (#22), Jay Cutler (#24) and Tony Romo (#16).

Matt Ryan threw 5, count the 5 INTs yesterday. Is he Elite? What the hell is Elite?

That’s it.

Does that make Josh Freeman Elite? He is clearly better than average. I would say honestly that he is just on the outside looking in of the “Elite QB” discussion.

But, I think more importantly, it needs to be noted that “Elite QB” status is a flexible thing. It was pretty clear over the course of the last month of season and into the playoffs last year that Eli Manning was among the best, if not the best QB in the league. Not so much this year. Especially over the course of the last month. A lot goes into the productivity of an NFL QB and it is clearly not a concrete list of top 5 guys.

I drafted Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rogers in each of my three fantasy football leagues. Although each has been good, and is clearly in the top 10 of NFL QBs this year, none of my fantasy teams are undefeated. The team I own Brady in started the year 0-6 due to some bad luck, bad choices by me, and poor performance by Mr. Brady and the other players occupying the roster of the Muscle Hamsters.

My point is (do I have a point?) that Josh Freeman, although not necessarily “Elite” is very damn close to it. And more importantly for the Buccaneers this year and going forward, he is clearly getting better.

At the very least, for about 15 minutes Sunday afternoon, Josh Freeman was the best QB on the field in Carolina. The stupid look on Cam Newton’s face as the Bucs went ahead was freakin’ priceless.  Have I shared how strongly I dislike the whole “Cam Newton” thing?

Guess what guys, the effing read option doesn’t work, even when you have Superman running it.

The Muscle Hamster Strikes Again

How does Buccaneer’s running back Doug Martin follow up his coming out performance against the Vikings on Thursday Night Football?

How about 25 carries for 251 Yards and 4 TDs?

The Buccaneers have one of the most potent offenses in the league over the last month. Josh Freeman has thrown 11 TDs and 1 INT in his last four games, Doug Martin is the spark that has ignited the Bucs offense, and all of this has happened with the Bucs losing 3/5ths of their starting O-Line to injuries.

Unreal.

I asked Who is Josh Freeman? He is the guy who hands the ball of to Doug Martin, who then runs the ball into the end zone.

The Buccaneers are 4-4 and are in the thick of the playoff race in the NFC. Lets take a minute to remember that this is the same team who lost on crappy calls to the Giants and Cowboys. And lost on the last play of the game to the Redskins and Saints. I know, coulda, shoulda, woulda, but this team is a handful  of plays away from being in the same conversation with Atlanta Falcons, who they have two games against still on the schedule, so I guess we will see how good they really are.

I don’t think the Bucs are going to go 12-4, but I do think 10-6 is a very real possibility. The problem is going to be the losses to the Saints, Cowboys, and Redskins may all cost them in tiebreakers.

But for today, lets focus on Doug Martin, the man who has single handedly brought my Fantasy team out of the depths of awfulness.

Who is Josh Freeman?

As the title implies, I find myself asking… uh, myself… Who is Josh Freeman?

This question is somewhat rhetorical, somewhat literal. I cannot figure out who this kid is. Is he the “comeback kid” that he showed flashes of in 2010. Routinely driving the Buccaneers for game winning/tying scores late in games. The kid who showed no fear and great leadership so early in his career. The kid who was mobile in the way that Ben Rothlisberger is mobile. Shaking would-be tacklers while keeping his eyes down field to extend plays.

Or, is he the guy we saw throw 26 INTs last year? The guy who looked shaken, confused and in over his head last year?

Coming into this year, the biggest question surrounding the Buccaneers was, which Josh Freeman is the real Josh Freeman?

Four games into the 2012 season, I can honestly say I have no idea. Week 1 against Carolina, Freeman was efficient, but not spectacular. He looked like a game manager (16-24, 138 yards and 1 TD)  who would spend most of his time handing the ball off to the Muscle Hamster and LaGarrett Blount.

In week 2, the Buccaneers found themselves in a shoot-out with the Super Bowl Champion NY Giants. Freeman responded to the challenge with his best day throwing the ball (15-28, 243 yards 2TDs, 2 INTs) and had the Bucs in position to win the game late. Freeman for the most part looked confident in the pocket.

Then came week 3 against Dallas. Freeman was terrible. There is not nice way to put it. He finished the day 10-28 for 110 yards 1TD and 1INT, but it looked a lot worse than that. In his defense, the one INT came when he threw a very catchable ball to D.J. Ware, who had the ball bounce off his face and into the waitng arms of Sean Lee (former PSU LB Sean Lee). Freeman looked hesitant and scared. The playcalling did him no favors as the Buccaneers followed the same 1st down-Run, 2nd down-Run, 3rd-down incomplete pass-script the entire game. Not once did the Buccaneers challenge the beat up Cowboys secondary deep down the field. It was a train wreck of a game for Freeman and the Bucs offense.

Finally, we had yesterday. The Bucs came into the game 1-2, but with two very close loses that easily could have been wins. In the first half, once again it was “Bad Josh”. He was inaccurate, and looked skiddish in the pocket. I considered turning the TV off at half-time with the Bucs down 21-6 and looking like they were going to be blown out.

Clearly these are not the 2011, Raheem Morris led Buccaneers. Under Greg Schiano, the Bucs came out in the second-half and shut down RGIII and the Redskins offense (until the final drive of the game). On the offensive side, Josh Freeman looked like a different QB. He looked like the guy from 2010, confident, accurate, taking deep shot after deep shot. Both Mike Williams (was his foot out-of-bounds before he caught that long pass?) and Vince Jackson ended the day with 100+ yards receiving and Freeman himself had, statistically his best game of the season (24-39, 299 1TD, 1 INT).

The Bucs lost because the defense looked lost on the final drive and because the offense laid a massive turd in the first half. But the real problem coming out of yesterday is that it did nothing to answer the major question concerning this team, and the title of this post: Who is Josh Freeman? Is he the guy that played the first 30 minutes yesterday and looked like he should be playing in the USFL? Or is he the guy who led the Bucs in the second half, throwing the ball all over the field (with accuracy) and led the team to a late go-ahead FG?

I honestly do not know, and I don’t think the Bucs do.

The Buccaneers drafted Freeman with the 17th pick in the first round of the 2009 draft. Here is a list of the players who were taken ahead of him:

Pick # NFL Team Player
1 DET Stafford, Matthew, QB, Georgia
2 STL Smith, Jason, OT, Baylor
3 KC Jackson, Tyson, DE, LSU
4 SEA Curry, Aaron, OLB, Wake Forest
5 NYJ Sanchez, Mark, QB, Southern Cal
6 CIN Smith, Andre, OT, Alabama
7 OAK Heyward-Bey, Darrius, WR, Maryland
8 JAX Monroe, Eugene, OT, Virginia
9 GB Raji, B.J., DT, Boston College
10 SF Crabtree, Michael, WR, Texas Tech
11 BUF Maybin, Aaron, DE, Penn State
12 DEN Moreno, Knowshon, RB, Georgia
13 WAS Orakpo, Brian, DE, Texas
14 NO Jenkins, Malcolm, CB, Ohio State
15 HOU Cushing, Brian, OLB, Southern Cal
16 SD English, Larry, DE, Northern Illinois
17 TB Freeman, Josh, QB, Kansas State

Honestly, and I am dead serious about this, there is not a single player on that list that I would rather have at this point that Josh Freeman. Ask any Jets fan how they feel about Mark Sanchez right now. Go take a look at Matthew Stafford’s stats for the 2012 season. And in doing so, keep in mind the offensive weapons that he has at his disposal

Ask Panther fans how they feel about Cam Newton right now. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are in their 5th years (one more than Freeman, Stafford and Sanchez). Can Josh Freeman be as good as Flacco and Ryan by next year, with the kind of weapons the Buccaneers have begun to surround him with? Yes, he can. Will he be? I have no freaking clue.

I don’t know who Josh Freeman is, and because of that, I am having a hard time embracing him. I made the mistake of teaching Avi that he is our favorite player before he was good enough to be dubbed so. Now I have to convince her that LaVonte David is in fact, our favorite player.

I don’t know what to make of Freeman, and until I do, I will not know what to make of these Buccaneers. They have bye this week, which gives them two weeks to get healthy and try to figure out who their quarterback really is.

On Second Thought- Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It is intellectually lazy to play the “we beat them, they beat us, so we must be better than them” game.

That being said, The Buccaneers beat Carolina in week one, allowing only 10 yards rushing and making Super Cam look decidedly human in the process.

In week one, the New York Giants were beaten pretty badly by the Cowboys. They bounced back by beating the Buccanners in what ended up being a really close game. Eli Manning threw for 510 yards. But, if not for two questionable (in my opinion) calls, the unnecessary Roughness not called on Vincent Jackson and the Mike Williams “drop”, The Bucs might have won this game. In the end, they stood toe to toe with the Giants and came away with a very close loss. Josh Freeman looked really good for most of the game and there were definitely positives to take away.

The same cannot be said for the Pathers last night. In two of three games this year, Cam Newton has looked terrible. similar to Josh Freeman, there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding Cam at this point.

When I turned off the game on Sunday, I felt defeated. I was disappointed that the Bucs didn’t hold on for the win, and I was feeling like I had just been punched in the face by reality. That reality being that these Buccaneers are not ready, yet, to compete with the best teams in the NFC. The more I think about it, maybe they are.

Sunday’s game will tell a lot about where the Buccaneers are headed. 2-1 with wins over Carolina and Dallas and one close loss to the Giants will look infinitely better than 1-2 and a team trying to decide if they are any good this year.

Watch out of Mike Williams this week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1-0

I know I have been here before (The Bucs started 4-2 last year before dropping 10 straight games to end the season). But today wouldn’t be OverReactionMonday if I didn’t overreact to what happened on the field yesterday.

So I will take my moment and enjoy it.

Let me start with the good. The Buccaneers defense (although lacking depth) is not lacking in young talent. I am 29 years old. Therefore, 10 years ago, the last time the Buccaneers were any good, I was an impressionable 19-year-old kid. Just like the music that you listen to at 16, 17 and 18 is the music you will love forever, The Buccaneers teams when I was a teenager are the ones that I will always look upon with rose colored glasses.

In my heart and mind, Mike Alstott, Warrick Dunn, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Ronde Barber… wait, Barber is still playing, will always be the greatest Buccaneers ever. What I loved about those teams was the style of defense they played. They were fast and they knocked the shit out of people.

I don’t know what this season will hold for the Buccaneers but what I do know is that the new core of young Buccaneers defenders are very reminiscent of  my Bucs from yester-year. It is intellectually lazy to say that Gerald McCoy is the New Sapp, LaVonte David is the new Brooks and Mark Barron is the new Lynch. Having said that, these guys can play. Gerald McCoy basically set up shop in the Carolina backfield and was a major reason why the Panthers were held to a franchise-low 10 yards rushing. LaVonte David looked like the Derrick Brooks clone that he was purported to be in the lead up to the draft. David was all over the field. And finally, Mark Barron looks to be more than the player John Lynch was, because Lynch was limited to basically being a small-ish linebacker that played SS. Mark Barron made GM Mark Dominik and company look very smart for taking him with the #6 overall pick last April.

As you can see here, Mark Barron can lay some effing lumber:

Steve Smith may have jumped right up and wagged his finger like he was alright after this hit, but I certainly noticed Mr. Smith was not on the field for the following play. After 10 years of playing football, I know what a guy looks like when he is pretending like he knows where he is.

Mark Barron is officially my new favorite Buccaneer defender. I want to love Gerald McCoy. But until he can stay healthy for a whole season, I have to reserve my affections.

On the offensive side of the ball, I think that Bucs Nation has seen the last of LaGarrett Blount in any significant role. The Muscle Hamster, Doug Martin literally took the starting gig and ran with it yesterday.

I still have concerns about Josh Freeman over the long haul. His decision making at times is infuriating. I will give him credit though, unlike Cam “Superman” Newton, who couldn’t decide which team to throw the ball to yesterday, Freeman, who led the NFL in INTs last year did not turn the ball over yesterday. He had one big pass to Vincent Jackson that was called back due to a hold, and Jackson also dropped one or two other catch-able balls. The line wasn’t pretty for Freeman, but he did enough to win the game and completed some big third down passes.

I don’t think this is a playoff team, yet. But I am very encouraged by what I saw yesterday.

At least I’m not a Bills fan.

Football is Back

I am probably too excited about this.

After dropping their last 10 games last year, and not really looking like they cared about it, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter the 2012 season looking for a bounce back season. I would be a lot less excited had they not made what appears to be all the right moves this offseason.

They dumped Raheem Morris in favor of the hard-nosed Greg Schiano. The drafted really well, including three new starters in the first two rounds with Mark Barron, Doug Martin and LaVonte David.

They massively upgraded the O-line and WR-corps with the additions of Carl Nicks and Vincent Jackson.

They made and addition by subtraction by dumping Kellen Winslow.

Unfortunately, I don’t think any of this will matter one bit if Josh Freeman is not able to return to his 2010 form, after amounted to a complete meltdown season last year. In his sophomore campaign, Freeman looked decisive, aggressive and ready to become the Buc’s franchise QB. In 2011, that all went to hell. Josh looked anxious in the pocket, inaccurate, and as if his pre-draft label of being in able to read a defense was going to stick with him.

It may be overly simplistic to say, but I believe as Josh Freeman goes, so goes the 2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I love the kid and want nothing more than for him to be successful. I think the Bucs will not hesitate to move in if he continues to regress. I am hopeful that he continues to improve. I do think that Kellen Winslow was part of the problem for Freeman. I think Josh felt a need to force the ball to Winslow to avoid drawing the ire of the former Soilder.

I know this is only one game, but I think we will know a lot more about the direction this team is heading at the end of today. I am hoping the Bucs force feed a large dose of the Muscle Hamster down the throat of the Panther’s defense.