Freeman, Newton have room to improve

We frequently talk here about how the NFC South might be the league’s only division with four franchise quarterbacks.

I’m in agreement with that because New Orleans’ Drew Brees and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan are well established as franchise quarterbacks. Cam Newton’s rookie season in Carolina was a pretty strong indication that he also fits the profile. I still believe Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman has the talent to be a franchise quarterback but needs to bounce back from a rough 2011 season and get some help from his supporting cast.

But, even with all that set, there is room for major improvement among NFC South quarterbacks in one area. Freeman and Newton were among the league leaders in one significant category that didn’t reflect very well on them. According to ESPN Stats & Information’s Keith Hawkins, Freeman and Newton ranked way too high when it came to quarterback turnovers (interceptions plus fumbles lost) in 2011. Here’s a look at the league leaders.

  • Freeman, 27

  • Newton, 19

  • Tavaris Jackson, 18

What’s disturbing here about Freeman and Newton are their interception totals. Freeman was second in the league with 22. That comes after a 2010 season in which he threw only six interceptions. What was the difference? Some of it was simply bad decision making by Freeman. But I think he was also the victim of an offense that was in total chaos. Everything was going wrong for the Bucs offensively. Their play calling wasn’t great, there wasn’t good balance between their running and passing game and their receivers often failed to get open and dropped a lot of passes. With new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan and what should be a more disciplined and organized team all the way around under new coach Greg Schiano, I think you’ll see big improvement from Freeman.

Newton wasn’t too far off Freeman with 17 interceptions. I don’t think the blame here falls on the supporting cast or the offensive scheme and play calling. I think it falls on Newton. He was a rookie and there naturally will be some mistakes. Newton also played with a great deal of confidence and tried to force some throws that weren’t there. That’s something that can easily be worked on in the offseason.

That’s why I don’t think you’ll see Freeman and Newton as high on this list in 2012.