Tougher Schedule Brings Bucs Back to Earth

If not for a loss late last season to Detroit, in which the Lions snapped their league-record road losing streak, the Buccaneers would have made the playoffs instead of Green Bay. But Tampa Bay, in general, and Josh Freeman, in particular, are having a difficult encore.

What's wrong with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?

Last season, they finished 10-6, losing out to the Green Bay Packers for the final NFC playoff spot based on a tiebreaker. Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman was brilliant, with 25 touchdowns, six interceptions and a sixth-ranked passer rating of 95.9. Defensively, they finished in the middle of the pack with 5.4 yards allowed per play, and as a team, they finished fifth in turnovers at plus-9.

This year, they're 4-5 after a strong 3-1 start. Freeman has been anything but brilliant, with nine touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 28th-ranked passer rating of 72.8. The defense is allowing 6.39 yards per play. In the last 20 years, only the 2008 Lions were worse (by 0.02 yards per play). That team, of course, went 0-16. Plus, the Bucs are tied for 19th in turnovers at minus-2.

So, what's up, as the Buccaneers get ready to face the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday?

"We played a couple tougher teams," coach Raheem Morris said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. "The games that we have lost, we've lost to the Houston Texans, who are first place in their division; we've lost to the Chicago Bears, who are second in their division; we've lost to the New Orleans Saints, which lead our division; we've (lost to) the Detroit Lions, which are second in their division and are off and running and rolling. We've played some really tough teams."

He forgot to mention the first-place 49ers, who are 8-1. The combined record of the teams the Buccaneers have lost to (Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans and Houston) is 34-13, while the record of the teams they've defeated (Minnesota, Atlanta, Indianapolis and New Orleans) is 14-24.

And therein lies the difference between last season and this season. Last year, the combined record of the Buccaneers' opponents was 122-134 (.477). This year, it's 47-37 (.560).

Moreover, of their 10 wins last season, the teams combined for a 55-105 record, and only New Orleans had a winning ledger, with the Bucs going 1-5 against teams with winning records. This year, they're 2-5 against teams with winning marks.

The Packers, of course, have a winning record. They're 9-0 and are in the midst of a franchise-record 15-game winning streak. The Bucs clearly need to get their derailed season back on track in a hurry, though a trip to Lambeau Field doesn't seem like the ideal setting.

"That's a good term: derailed," Morris said. "We had a setback. Things of that nature happen when you play good football teams in the National Football League. The best thing that can happen for us is the great team we've got to go face this week to get back focused. We look forward to doing that and getting back on track and have the opportunity to play a really good football team."

To do so, Freeman will need to get back to the level at which he played last season. In the red zone, he's completed 46.2 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and four interceptions, with his passer rating of 54.4 being dead last among the 34 quarterbacks measured by STATS. That means missed opportunities to score. He's thrown another four interceptions when backed up inside his 20, meaning he's given the opponent easy points.

When blitzed, he's completed 52.9 percent of his passes with one touchdown, three interceptions and a rating of 69.5. Last year when blitzed, he completed 59.8 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns, five interceptions and a rating of 98.1. Clearly, he'll get a major dose of pressure in light of the Packers' success blitzing the Vikings' Christian Ponder on Monday.

"They have a good blitz package," Freeman said. "We've studied them, watched all their blitzes throughout the year, and really we take a lot of pride in our blitz pickup and not having any free rushers. When you get hats on hats, you've got to win those matchups. The Packers do a great job getting Clay Matthews matched up on running backs. You saw in the game when he stuck Christian Ponder for the sack-fumble, they had two running backs assigned to block him and they just couldn't block him. Very good blitz package, their secondary does a good job of disguising it. It's going to be a challenge. It's going to be an exciting week of film study preparation and then when we get in there to play them it's going to be fun to see those looks in person."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at

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