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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Securing ball critical for Freeman, Bucs

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 12:44 AM
TAMPA -

Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman walked into an off-day meeting with quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt on Tuesday and, before he even sat down, said the very words rolling around inside Van Pelt's head.

"I have to take better care of the football,'' Freeman said.

"Absolutely, you do,'' Van Pelt replied, as he grabbed a pen and began to scratch through the item labeled "ball security'' at the top of his printed list of meeting points.

After throwing just six interceptions last season, Freeman has thrown four in the Bucs' first three games. But it's not so much the number that concerns the Bucs. It's the way it came about.

Two of Freeman's interceptions were throws into the end zone, one a first-down play and the other a situation in which all indicators suggested he not throw the ball at all.

During the season opener against Detroit, Freeman threw into a double coverage despite seeing the front of a defender's jersey, which is usually a red light for a quarterback.

"If you have backside numbers you usually want to give your receiver a chance,'' Van Pelt said. "We call that an opportunity ball. But he had his (front-side) numbers to us on that, so that was just a poor decision.''

So, too, was Freeman's decision on Sunday to throw the ball on a second-and-goal play from the Falcons 9-yard line. By the time Freeman threw, he had crossed the line of scrimmage, drawing an illegal-forward-pass penalty.

That penalty, which Freeman could have avoided by tucking the ball and running with it, cost the Bucs five yards and the loss of a down. Ultimately, they settled for a field goal on the drive.

"Oh, there's no doubt,'' Bucs coach Raheem Morris said when asked if Freeman needed to start making better decisions with the ball. "We definitely want to take better care of the ball.''

Especially in the red zone. The Bucs enter Monday night's against the Colts ranked 31st in the league in offensive red-zone efficiency, having scored just three touchdowns in 11 red-zone possessions.

Freeman's red-zone mistakes are obviously part of the problem. But as his comments to Van Pelt prior to their meeting on Tuesday indicate, he's well aware of his personal contributions.

"Two turnovers in the red zone, that's just unacceptable,'' Freeman said. "That's something you really don't anticipate doing or expect to do at anytime. And we talk about it all the time.

"That's something that's just not in our chemistry as Buccaneers quarterbacks – to throw picks in the red zone like that. It's unacceptable and I have to find a way to get that corrected.''

Part of the game plan includes running a check of Freeman's confidence, which has been running so high lately he has often tried to squeeze passes into spots they simply cannot fit.

That's what happened on at least one of the interceptions in the end zone and also the play against Detroit on which Freeman's deep pass for Arrelious Benn was intercepted at the Lions 1-yard line.

And while the mistakes and wasted scoring chances are a legitimate cause for concern, the Bucs remain as confident as ever in Freeman, largely because the overall results are still glowing.

Freeman has completed 72 of 106 attempts for 682 yards with two touchdowns. Though his passer rating of 76.1 is nearly 20 points lower than at the end of last season, Freeman continues to make big plays in the clutch.

On third down plays, he ranks fourth in the league with a 104.8 passer rating. In the fourth quarter, he ranks 10th in completion percentage (69.8) and 17th in passer rating (94.2).

"The interceptions are obviously a little high for him, but as far as managing games and making plays, if you take the interceptions away, he's had a heck of a year so far,'' Van Pelt said.

"That's the thing you have to keep in mind. I don't think he's going to throw 18 interceptions this year. We're not worried about that. The situation has been addressed.

"In fact, Josh addressed it himself in that meeting. I didn't even have to bring it up to him. He knew, and after being around him the way we have, you kind of expect that from him. That's just the kind of guy he is.''


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