This past Sunday the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned their second road win in successive weeks, defeating the Oakland Raiders 42-32. It was the second consecutive week that the Buccaneers scored at least 36 points, and a big part of that offensive surge has been the great running of rookie tailback Doug Martin. Martin, who ripped off a 251-yard game against the Raiders, has been everything Greg Schiano and the Buccaneers hoped for, but so has Josh Freeman, whose play is being overlooked.
Freeman is sitting pretty statistically halfway through the regular season, accumulating 16 touchdowns and only five interceptions, including 11 touchdowns and one measly interception to go along with 9.5 yards per pass attempt over the last four weeks. Freeman has been something of a revelation for the Bucs, who had concerns about whether or not the former first-round pick out of Kansas State would ever get “it” after a shaky start to the season.
One of the best targets for Josh Freeman has been wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who was a prized acquisition in the off-season, and was supposed to help establish a downfield passing game. That has definitely been the case as Jackson has caught at least one pass of 20 yards or more in three of the last four weeks, including catches of 95, 64 and 62 yards. The 64-yard catch came last week against the Raiders when he split the play-side cornerback and safety and caught a pass from the strong-armed Freeman.
At the beginning of the second quarter, Freeman stood tall five yards from the line of scrimmage and scanned the Raiders defense. It showed two deep safeties, implying some form of an even coverage — Cover 2 or Cover 4. Based off the middle linebackers’ depth and the alignment of the two safeties — one of which was across the No.2 receiver of the formation — it was likely to be Cover 4.
Cover 4, also known as quarters, is one of the most commonly-used coverages, and its roots consist of a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy that’s common in zone coverage. In this coverage, the two deep safeties are to form bracket (double) coverage against the No. 1 (closest to the sideline) receiver if the No. 2 (slot) doesn’t go vertical or pass a certain depth.
When the ball is snapped, the Raiders coverage sorted out as expected, and Freeman took a three-step drop. He scanned the field as he went in reverse and faced pressure from his left. Prior to being pancaked, one of the four Raiders’ pass rushers came near Freeman, but he kept his cool like a veteran quarterback should. He took a couple of subtle steps backwards before taking steps forward that were akin to the “hitch” step that legendary San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh popularized.
As he took his steps forward, Jackson was running a “sluggo” route. This consisted of a go route set up by a post route. It was used to fool safety Matt Giordano, who was keying in on Jackson and preparing to aggressively jump the route over the top for what he hoped to be a game-changing turnover. He could be aggressive because he had help underneath from cornerback Michael Huff and linebacker Miles Burris, who was also bracketing Jackson. When Jackson broke to the inside, Giordano moved forward to break on the ball, and he sealed his fate. Jackson’s next step wouldn’t be to the inside, as instead he went outside to go down the field and complete the “sluggo,” while the Raiders defensive backs trailed.
With Jackson open deep, Freeman completed his forward steps and stepped through his throw, transferring his weight forward and launching the football sky-high, and Jackson came down with the catch for a 64-yard reception.
The play was just another throw for Freeman, who has routinely been completing deep passes to Jackson (and Mike Williams) for big gains. Freeman has completed passes of at least 41 yards in all but two of Tampa’s games thus far, which speaks to both his improvement as a quarterback, and just how big of an acquisition Jackson has been for the Buccaneers’ vertical passing game. Against the Raiders, the 64-yard completion from Freeman to Jackson was part of 247 total yards, and a game when 60 percent of Freeman’s passes were completed, with two touchdowns and more importantly, no turnovers.
Josh Freeman has finally gotten “it”.