Buccaneers' quarterback roulette isn't helping grow the offense

TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter has settled into a game of quarterback roulette in 2018 -- switching back and forth between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston -- and it's costing his team.

The Bucs' offense has failed to grow, in part, because of it. Quarterbacks throw to windows, where timing and chemistry are everything. All of that takes a hit when a new guy is under center.

Koetter acknowledged changing quarterbacks has been disruptive for both Fitzpatrick and Winston. He wouldn't go as far as saying it was hurting the offense as a whole.

"Continuity is a cop out," Koetter said Monday. "I mean, we've got capable quarterbacks. There's no reason why they can't play consistent football -- I've seen them do it. I know they can do it."

Tight end Cameron Brate's numbers have taken a nose-dive when Winston is on the bench because for four years, those two have stayed late after nearly every practice working together. Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans also found success on broken plays the past four years because Evans had played with Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, where there was practically no playbook.

Koetter was asked if there would come a time this season when he would settle on one quarterback. His response didn't evoke much confidence.

"You're asking me to predict the future and unfortunately I can't do that," Koetter said.

The Bucs coach needs to make a decision and stick to it -- for the sake of his football team. There isn't much else to lose. There are six games left this season and the Bucs are six games behind the NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints and three behind the second-place Carolina Panthers. It would take almost a miracle to finish 5-1 and get to .500.

It is interesting that, with the season and his job on the line, Koetter has chosen a 35-year-old career journeyman over the 24-year-old Winston, a first-overall draft pick whom he was brought in to develop. Some have speculated it has to do with Winston's $20.9 million option, but sources told ESPN the option would not affect whether Winston played. If the Bucs didn't want to play him, they would have made him inactive and bumped Ryan Griffin into the No. 2 role.

"No one has talked to me about that," Koetter said, adding that no one within the front office or ownership has instructed him on which QB to play.

Bucs quarterbacks have thrown 23 interceptions this season -- the third-most of any team by Week 11 since 2001 (the Detroit Lions had 32 by Week 11 in Matthew Stafford's rookie season in 2009, when they finished 2-14). Until the Bucs' 38-35 loss to the New York Giants last week, Tampa Bay had gone five straight weeks without completing a pass thrown to the end zone. Two weeks ago against the Washington Redskins, they went 0-for-5 in the red zone.

"That's a killer," Brate said of red zone turnovers. "Obviously it's an issue we have to correct going forward, and we're going to work as hard as we can to correct it."

Wide receiver Adam Humphries added: "It's frustrating when we turn the ball over sometimes and just can't get that momentum going that we know we can get and score points. It's great to have those late fourth-quarter comebacks, but we need to make it happen and get the W."

Fitzpatrick might have more touchdowns than Winston this season (Fitzpatrick has thrown 17 touchdowns in eight games versus Winston's eight touchdowns in five games), and Winston's four-interception performance against the Cincinnati Bengals was particularly alarming.

But, Winston has emerged as the better red zone passer. He has completed 60 percent of his passes in the red zone compared to Fitzpatrick's 38 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Winston's touchdown percentage from the red zone is 30 percent compared to Fitzpatrick's 24 percent. And Winston has also been better on third down, as the Bucs have converted 59 percent of third downs with him versus Fitzpatrick's 43 percent.

Tampa Bay isn't the only team to make four quarterback changes this season. The Buffalo Bills have, too -- from Nathan Peterman to Josh Allen to Derek Anderson, back to Peterman and then to Matt Barkley -- but their offense has managed to score just 13 touchdowns this season, one fewer than what the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs combined for in Monday Night Football in Week 11. The Bucs, on the other hand, have scored 33 offensive touchdowns this season.

Over the past five seasons, 16 teams have made at least four quarterback changes in a season. Only five finished with winning records -- the 2017 Bills (9-7), 2016 Denver Broncos (9-7), 2015 Houston Texans (9-7), 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6) and 2014 Arizona Cardinals (11-5). The common denominator with those teams? Outstanding defense. They allowed an average of 19.83 points per game. The Bucs are giving up 32.9 points a game.

The Bucs do, however, have some offensive firepower, if they can become more consistent. It probably won't do enough to salvage this season, but it can certainly help answer questions about Winston, and help pave the way for next season.