Positives and Negatives to Trey Lance's Second Start
Image Credit: 49ers
One day, maybe next season, the San Francisco 49ers will not have to answer questions about their quarterback.
That day has yet to arrive.
Once again, the 49ers are in another quandary as to who will start against the Los Angeles Rams.
Rookie Trey Lance received the starting nod in a Week 17 win over the Houston Texans. He played well despite a slow start and an interception.
Lance still has a long way to go to develop his professional game, but there were indeed high points last week. Below are three of his best plays and a few areas that could use some polish.
Also, as a disclaimer: I saw J.T. O'Sullivan's "QB School" breakdown of Lance floating around this week, and I have not watched it. I wanted to come up with my own conclusions about Lance's second start.
1st Quarter – 1st and 10 at the SF 30 (0:18)
Lance had yet to find a groove on the opening two possessions but started to turn things around on the third offense.
With little time left in the first quarter, Shanahan called a movement play: "North Right Clamp F Right Fake 18 Sift Keep Left Y Slide."
These movement plays were perfect for Lance, and I don't know why they were not a more significant part of the offense.
Alas, Lance took the snap and faked a handoff to the right. He booted to his left and had tight end George Kittle open on the "slide" route.
Lance didn't take the easy throw – which would have been a good choice. Instead, he flipped his hips and found wide receiver Trent Sherfield on a low cross for a 12-yard gain.
Let's make it very clear: Throwing to Kittle on the "slide" route would have been the right choice. There's nothing wrong with taking what the defense gives you and allowing a receiver like Kittle to gain yardage after the catch.
Do not, under any circumstance, let anyone convince you the short route was the wrong read.
What was impressive was Lance's confidence to make a tougher throw on the intermediate route. Intermediate throws like that are not part of veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's identity, and frankly, that's what has been missing under his tenure as the starting quarterback.
2nd Quarter: 1st and 10 at the SF 25 (0:38)
Lance was having trouble with the quick slant routes earlier in the game but connected on one late in the second quarter.
The 49ers' defense held Houston to a three-and-out series, and there was just enough time on the clock for the offense to put up a few points.
I believe Shanahan called "300 Scat Patriot Lion" to open the sixth offense. The route combination on the strong side is "patriot," and the dual slant routes are "lion." I'm guessing on the actual play call, but I am confident in identifying the route combinations.
Lance took the snap in shotgun, gathered his feet, and hit Deebo Samuel for an easy 17-yard gain. Later in the game, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk ran a "choice" route that slanted inside, and Lance connected with Aiyuk for a 43-yard gain.
Slant routes are an overlooked part of modern football but still play an essential role for an offense.
3rd Quarter: 3rd and 3 at the HOU 14 (6:44)
The 49ers' defense picked off quarterback Davis Mills, setting up Lance at near midfield on the eighth possession.
A big pass interference penalty and two short runs gave the 49ers a third-and-3 situation at Houston's 14-yard line.
Lance took the shotgun snap and took a three-step drop in the pocket. The 49ers' offensive line was in a 2 Jet protection, with four linemen sliding to the left and right tackle Tom Compton on an island.
Compton was in a poor position once Lance hit the top of his drop, and Lance felt the right side breaking down. He maneuvered through a small gap in the protection, hopped off right foot, and hit running back JaMycal Hasty on a "check burst" route to the left.
I have no ill will or prejudice toward Garoppolo, but he cannot make this type of throw. The play was one of Lance's best of the day but overshadowed by his 45-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Deebo Samuel.
Lance had a languid start to the game and missed a few quick throws, which have been due to 71,600 eyes staring down at a rookie quarterback and demanding greatness. He cannot come out with the same slow start should he start this weekend.
And no, Gentle Reader, it wasn't the play calling that was the problem for the sluggishness. Lance missed a few throws, and it took a bit longer for the running game to start to cook.
4th Quarter: 3rd and 3 at the SF 42 (10:45)
On the 49ers' 10th possession, they found themselves with another third-and-3 situation near midfield.
Shanahan called "Double Scout F Spread Sneak" to try and get the needed yardage to keep the drive going.
While Lance threw with anticipation – pause the video to see wide receiver Jauan Jennings at the top of his break while the ball left Lance's hand – the pass looked like a wounded duck. It had a weird flutter, and Jennings had to go to the ground to scoop up the pass.
I am not a quarterback expert, and it was unclear why the ball had such a strange flight pattern. It was of no consequence as the 49ers got the first down and would score on the next play.
I understand why Shanahan, for all of Lance's possibilities, might lean toward starting Garoppolo this Sunday and in the playoffs. Lance has shown what the 49ers' offense could look like, while Garoppolo hit his ceiling as a professional two seasons ago.
However, how the offense could look is not what Shanahan needs now. Garoppolo is the known commodity, and Shanahan will probably try to do everything possible to get him on the field.
There are good things in the future for Lance and the 49ers; it just might take a few more months to see it occur with more regularity.
All images courtesy of NFL.com.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
You can follow Bret on Twitter here!
Stay tuned to 49ersHub for more great 49ers coverage and analysis!