Josh Freeman – and by extension, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense – had two very different experiences on Sunday against the Washington Redskins, as evidenced by Freeman's passer ratings before and after halftime.
Despite completing eight of his first nine throws Freeman finished the first half with 13-of-22 passing for 88 yards and one interception. After the break, he was 11 of 17 for 211 yards and one touchdown. That's a passer rating of 49.1 in the first half and 127.3 in the second half, and it largely explains how a 21-3 deficit turned into a 22-21 lead (albeit a short-lived one).
Clearly, Freeman and play-caller Mike Sullivan found a comfort zone after the intermission against Washington. Now, with a break of a larger variety – the Bucs' 2012 bye week – the team is trying to find Freeman's comfort zone for the next three months.
On Monday, the day after that narrow loss to the Redskins, Head Coach Greg Schiano talked about some of the team's bye-week goals, which included a few days of self-scouting in all areas. One point of emphasis in that evaluation would be to "pinpoint what we know [Freeman] is most comfortable with and what our offense is most comfortable with." Sullivan said much the same thing, adding that Freeman's potential strengths in the Bucs' new offense go beyond the two most frequently mentioned – deep-ball accuracy and movement in the pocket.
On Wednesday, three days into that self-scout process, Schiano clarified what he was driving at with his day-after-game comments.
"It's more of this: We have this menu of plays, and we don't need them all," he said. "You can't run them all so let's just really prioritize the plays that he's best at, the plays that he feels the best at, and go from there. That's really what we're doing right now, just narrowing our focus. It's good. It's been a good week of self-evaluation. I'm anxious to get back on Monday."
Freeman is helping with the process, obviously, though it's not in his competitive nature to point out plays or concepts he doesn't want to use. He naturally doesn't want to limit his options, but he understands that in some cases it may be the best thing for the team's still-developing offense.
"It's hard on them figuring out what I'm most comfortable with because when I look at the offense I've got a lot of confidence. I've got confidence in my guys, I've got confidence in myself and in the schemes. I've got a lot of confidence in Sully, the plays he's calling. It's hard for us to [say], 'I don't really feel comfortable with that one.'
"So you have to take a step down and [say], 'You know, I don't really feel like that one's working for me.' At the end of the day, for the greater good, it's something you have to do. I feel like we definitely made some strides this week as far as running our base stuff or core stuff. At the end of the day it's about execution, it always has been, always will be and if we can run our plays, be on the same page and execute I think we'll be in pretty good shape."
Freeman felt a particular session on Wednesday with Quarterbacks Coach Ron Turner was particularly useful in this process of self-evaluation and offensive streamlining. Schiano had mentioned that the bye week gave the coaches and players a little extra time to use the team's very advanced video system and take longer looks at certain situations and play groupings. Turner used one such video "cut-up" to demonstrate to Freeman how he could turn some of his more uncomfortable plays into comfortable ones.
"He showed some plays – it was just the same play [call] over and over again. He [said], 'If you just run your stuff and run it how you know you can do it, how you've been trained to do it, we're going to be in good shape.' It's putting the offense in the best position to succeed. With this new offense, I've been pushing. I want to go out and do everything well."