• John Bulmer

Best of Both Worlds: How Shanahan Can Use Both Lance and Jimmy to Win

Image Credit: Associated Press


After all of the agonizing of the past few months over who is going to start at quarterback for the 49ers, it turns out that maybe, just maybe, there is actually a third way after all. No, I’m not talking about Nate Sudfeld(!),but the prospect of Kyle Shanahan running with a dual QB system.

Now conventional NFL wisdom (eloquently put by John Madden) says that, “If you have two quarterbacks you have none” and that is certainly the sort of thinking we have all been brought up on. There has to be “A guy, the guy, the main man, the numero uno, etc.” You get my drift.

But conventional wisdom is increasingly becoming a thing of the past in the modern NFL. Indeed Shanahan is part of a new breed of coaches willing to push the boundaries and challenge long-held views.

So, how would this look?

I don’t think it would be as simple as just swapping and switching like they did in the final pre-season game. An NFL offense is a well-oiled machine, worth more than the sum of its parts and part of this is the relationship between the quarterback, the offensive line, the running backs and the receivers. Constantly changing the man under center would surely hurt that cohesiveness, right? Throw off the timing? There is also the issue of signposting your intentions. These are two very, very different quarterbacks with very different styles, if they alternate for specific situations there is a danger of tipping your hand to your opponents.

Horses for Courses

Image Credit: Associated Press

The above is a phrase of British origin, which relates to the idea that some race horses are better suited to some race tracks than others. It is often used in sports over here for teams using specific players in specific situations. It is possible to imagine Shanahan adopting a “Horses for Courses” approach with the quarterback position and picking the QB he feels will cause the opposition the most problems.

This could cause opponents issues and would certainly help to keep both men healthy and rested but it is certainly risky and unorthodox. It could be a prudent approach given Garoppolo’s issues with resilience over the last three seasons and may be a way to keep both men happy and other teams on their toes, not knowing which defensive approach they will need from week to week.

How difficult would it be for teams to prepare to face the 49ers if they don’t know which quarterback is going to start against them? They would have to scheme for both, thus reducing the amount of time they can prepare for either scenario. This would give the 49ers an advantage in a game which relies heavily on marginal gains and could be the difference come game time on a Sunday.

This approach would also see the starter playing the full game and would allow the 49ers’ offensive players to have the consistency of working with the same guy in practice and in the game and reduce the chopping and changing, thereby helping with cohesiveness.

Situational approach

Image Credit: 49ers

Alternatively, Shanahan could start Garoppolo as the veteran, the guy with the best record in the NFL on third down over recent years and a man who has proven during training camp to be the more successful of the two at moving the sticks and putting together longer drives. He could then rotate Lance in for certain situations such as third-and-short or goal-line situations where his running ability and power could prove useful. This seems the most likely option at the moment and certainly has some merit.

The New Orleans Saints had a similar approach at times over the past couple of years in the way that they occasionally used Taysom Hill (before you all start coming after me, I’m not comparing Lance to Hill!). This would certainly be an intriguing approach and could also help the offensive line if it allows Lance to move outside the pocket and keep teams honest, stopping them from just stacking the box and coming after a more immobile quarterback in Garoppolo.

This would also allow the rookie to get his feet wet in favourable situations, thus building his confidence and giving him valuable experience at seeing different situations without having to carry the full burden of winning games for the 49ers.

Is Any of This a Good Idea?

Who knows?

Maybe. Maybe not.One thing is certain, though: the 49ers have a rare opportunity here to do something different and have arguably the best possible coach to execute such a ground-breaking plan. The key to all of this is playing to the strengths of the two men under center. It is well documented that Trey Lance has hardly played any football for two years and is still extremely young in football terms. The way he has been utilised in pre-season hasn’t really played to his strengths at all, but it is pre-season and it was always going to be very unlikely for Shanahan to show his hand at this early stage. He needs to be given opportunities to succeed, get a few cheap wins and build confidence.

The other plus point of this dual-QB approach is that it kills the narrative of #TeamJimmy and #TeamTrey. It becomes #Team49ers with both players making a valuable contribution to the team’s success. It could even unite 49ers Twitter (ha-ha, sorry, I’m getting carried away now). It could prove to be the best of both worlds and a chance to justify both Garoppolo’s hefty salary and spending the No. 3 pick on Lance. I’m all for trying new things as long as it is done in a logical and well-thought out way, not just a scatter gun approach. If Shanahan can find a way to make this work, then more power to him, it will certainly make for an interesting season ahead and I for one can’t wait to see how it all shakes out.


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