For Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quarterback Josh Freeman, last season is one to forget. Freeman came into the 2011 season riding a wave of hype. Just the year prior in 2010, the Kansas State University alum amassed a 25:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His favorite target, wide receiver Mike Williams, was getting an extra year of experience. And the Bucs came this close to making the playoffs with a 10-6 record.
After that 2010 season, the Tampa Bay organization was so comfortable with its offense that five of its eight selections in the 2011 NFL Draft were defensive players, including the first three rounds of the draft (Adrian Clayborn (1st), Da'Quan Bowers (2nd) and Mason Foster (3rd)).
Despite focusing on defense in the draft, the Bucs allowed the most points of any NFL team in 2011 (494), gave up the most rushing yards (2,497) and rushing touchdowns (26). The Tampa Bay defense ranked dead last in 2011.
The Buccaneers' 2010 offense was centered around a balanced approach of an aggressive running back in LeGarrette Blount and an efficient Freeman. They found success because the organization was able to couple a capable offense couched in a stifling defense. The 2010 Bucs' defense ranked 9th in the league, giving up only 318 points (as compared to 494 points in 2011).
If we rewind back to 2010 and look at Freeman under center, he's a much more relaxed quarterback who doesn't need to take unnecessary risks. The defense kept them in the game and they were able to methodically move the ball down the field. An NFL offense looks a lot different when it's playing from behind than when the team has the lead.
In 2011, the Bucs rarely took the lead. They scored more than 20 points only twice all season, and never more than 30 points in a game. From Week 7 on, Tampa never won a single game. Freeman threw 16 of his 22 interceptions during those last 10 games.
Heading into the 2012 season, Freeman's success is handcuffed to the defense's success. If the defense is able to make stops and give up no more than the lower 300's in points, then Freeman has a legitimate opportunity to revisit his 2010 form. If the Bucs have to rely on Freeman to play from behind and reel in a slacking defense, then the 2011 Freeman will emerge, even with his new favorite target, Vincent Jackson.
There is no doubt that Tampa's running game received a shot of adrenaline with rookie, Doug Martin. Martin's addition should help absorb some of the offensive responsibility from Freeman, but the Bucs cannot rely on the rookie to fix their abysmal offense. They will need a balanced attack in 2012 coming from Freeman, the running game, and most importantly: the defense.