Despite suffering their first loss of the season, Sunday offered a glimpse into the immediate future for the San Francisco 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan. While an ‘L’ in the win-loss column rarely is accompanied with optimism and excitement, it’s exactly the state of 49ers faithful as San Francisco wrapped up the first quarter of their campaign.
Trey Lance, welcome to the show young man.
After taking over for the oft-criticized Jimmy Garropolo as an injury replacement to start the second half, Lance, at times, was magical, and at other points in the ball game, he looked inept, underprepared, and lost. While the two signal-callers have battled back and forth for starter’s snaps throughout the summer and during the early portions of the season, a Week 4 loss at the hands of Russell Wilson’s Seattle Seahawks has placed the onus (once again) on Shanahan to make the right decision moving forward.
Much has been made of the organizational decision-making from John Lynch, Shanahan, and 49ers brass since the spring. Was it Mac Jones they traded all the way up to the No. 3 overall pick for? Was it Justin Fields? Was it Lance? The questions dragged on and on as to which quarterback prospect San Francisco had their spotlight on entering the 2021 NFL Draft. While Lance proved to be the belle of Lynch’s ball, the mixed signals of snap counts and usage have offered a drastic sense of confusion for a 49ers unit primed to return to the playoffs. With more work coming in the run game than in the pass early in his professional tenure as a gadget player, Lance was presented the opportunity to work on the opposite side of the play sheet Sunday.
Moving forward, if you’re Shanahan in arguably the most competitive division in all of football, the answer lies in the arm of No. 5 despite his obvious massive room for improvement.
With just two quarters’ worth of work, Lance was dynamic, quick-witted, and ready for the lights; everything Shanahan expected he would be out of North Dakota State. Complemented with more than 200 yards from scrimmage, Lance’s processing ability, both pre-snap, and under fire, has increasingly improved with each and every rep he’s received both in practice and in prior weeks. And while Lance completed just 50% of his 18 attempts, his dual-threat ability off-script and ability to harness the big play proved he deserves the key to Shanahan’s offensive engine.
The best version of Lance comes from RPO concepts when he’s able to hand the ball off, pass, or tuck and scamper himself. Here, late in the third quarter in his third offensive series, Shanahan dials up a gorgeous outside concept with Deebo Samuel working inside-out under Brandon Aiyuk. As the play progresses, Lance identifies the Seahawks running zone. As the high safety rolls down to take Aiyuk on the crosser, rather than the corner passing off Aiyuk to the high defender, Samuel slips behind the Seattle defense for as easy a pitch-and-catch as Lance will have in his career.
His second touchdown, once again to Samuel, came easy for Lance. What stands out, however, is Lance’s velocity on the football. A frozen rope into the hands of his favorite target, Shanahan’s gameplan to get the ball in Samuel’s hands and let him eat worked to perfection. Where Shanahan’s genius comes to light is near the goal line, where Lance’s stoutly-built frame and bazooka for an arm presents nightmares for opposing coordinators to counter. Add in the presence of George Kittle, a 235-pound Pro Bowl fullback in Kyle Juszczyk, and a downhill ball-carrier in Trey Sermon, and the opportunities for six become endless both on the ground and through the air.
While his physical gifts have been enough thus far to earn him a starting job in the NFL with Garoppolo expected to remain out next week, Lance’s ability above the neck will ultimately place the bar on his ceiling as a dual-threat talent. But for today, next week, and the year to come, the decision for Shanahan on who to move forward with under center should come without hesitation.
- Aug 22, 2022
- Aug 22, 2022