Fitzpatrick or Winston? Who plays QB for Buccaneers not a big concern for Bears

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The best guess here is that Ryan Fitzpatrick hangs on to his starting job Sunday, when Jameis Winston returns from a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy after being accused of groping an Uber driver in 2016. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter has been intentionally coy about who his starter will be against the Bears, but what Fitzpatrick has done — a league-leading 1,230 yards while completing 70.3 percent of his passes and throwing 11 touchdowns — warrants another start, even with a former No. 1 pick in Winston returning (Fitzpatrick has also been Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded quarterback so far). 

“That’s the whole point in playing in the NFL — you have to be prepared,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “You get paid to go out and be able to know, no matter who it is, you’ve got to be prepared. That’s going to be a challenge. You’re ready to meet the challenge.” 

Winston started against the Bears in each of the last three seasons, completing 61 percent of his passes for 811 yards with five touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 98.6. But he wasn’t the reason why the Buccaneers cruised past the Bears, 29-7, last year in Tampa — that would be the turnover-filled day of Mike Glennon — and he only threw for 204 yards on 18/30 passing with one touchdown. 

But a common refrain from those with the Bears this week is that Tampa Bay’s offense doesn’t change much when Fitzpatrick is quarterbacking it as opposed to Winston. 

“They run the same offense with both guys,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “Obviously, Winston is a little bit more of a scrambler, more active in the pocket. But Fitzpatrick is too. I don’t think there offense changes a whole lot with either guy.”

So that means the Bears' defense won't have to change much, either. 

“Strangely, (they’re) kind of, like, the same in a sense,” Mack said. “You can see the experience on Fitzpatrick. His control at the line of scrimmage. Jameis … he has some of the same intangibles. It’s gonna be. It’s kind of different, but it’s still similar in a weird way to me being a defensive guy. We’ll see when we play.”

With Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper both out with hamstring injuries, and Tampa Bay possessing perhaps the NFL’s best trio of receivers so far this year, the Bears will need to consistently put pressure on whoever is the Buccaneers’ quarterback. Fitzpatrick has been under pressure on about one in every three drop backs — which puts him in the middle of the pack of starting quarterbacks — but has only been sacked on 11 percent of his dropbacks, the eighth-lowest percentage among 2018 starters. 

With rookie Kevin Toliver II in line to play — and be picked on — plenty, generating that pressure on the quarterback will be a critical key for the Bears’ defense to keeping the pressure off Toliver. But that will stand no matter who’s playing quarterback for Tampa Bay. 

“It doesn’t to be honest, whoever’s out there we know they trust him enough to be out there so we have to take care of it,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “We don’t really know where that’s headed right now, we just know whoever’s out there we have to go ahead and get this done.”

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