Reliving the Past: Should Lance Get Snaps Against the Packers?
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49ers versus Packers in the playoffs? Sounds familiar. In fact, the 49ers and Packers have squared off eight times in playoff history. The teams are knotted up with an even 4-4 split. San Francisco holds the recent edge, winning three straight over their postseason rivals from Green Bay, including the 2019 NFC Championship, 2013 wild card, and 2012 divisional games. With the 49ers deep in preparation for Saturday night’s trip to Lambeau Field, could history offer the winning gameplan?
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The 2012 NFC divisional game marked the 49ers’ second contest against the Packers that season. The 49ers opened their season with a 30-22 Week 1 win at Lambeau Field. Alex Smith started his second year under Jim Harbaugh in efficient fashion, completing 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers predictably put up flashy numbers, including throwing for 303 yards and two touchdowns. However, the 49ers coaxed Rodgers into an interception and stifled the Packers’ running game, leaving their quarterback as the high rusher with 27 yards.
The Packers entered the postseason at 11-5, a half-game behind of the 11-4-1 49ers. Green Bay knocked off division rival Minnesota Vikings in the wild card round while San Francisco enjoyed a first-round bye. Green Bay would not be facing the same 49ers team it saw in Week 1.
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After a Week 10 concussion, Alex Smith remained benched for backup Colin Kaepernick. The second-year quarterback led the 49ers to a 5-2 record in his seven starts. Kaepernick’s mobility and arm strength opened up the 49ers’ offense, led by offensive coordinator Greg Roman. San Francisco implemented the zone-read scheme Kaepernick so famously utilized while leading the Nevada Wolf Pack and earning Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Player of the Year in 2008.
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Kaepernick would have a career night in his first playoff start. The dual-threat quarterback rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns in a 45-31 victory. Kaepernick set the NFL and franchise records for rushing yards by a quarterback in a playoff game in the process. Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers had no solution for the 49ers zone-read attack, surrendering nearly 600 yards of total offense and over 38 minutes of possession.
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San Francisco once again has a mobile quarterback with zone-read experience. As you can guess, it’s not Jimmy Garoppolo. Colin Kaepernick and Trey Lance posted similar numbers during their college careers. Both quarterbacks rushed for over 1,100 yards and passed for just under 3,000 yards in their sophomore campaigns. Lance has been shelved since his Week 17 emergency start against the Houston Texans. Might we see him in the divisional round?
Truthfully, I doubt it. It seems far-fetched to send a rookie with two and a half games of NFL experience into the lion’s den that is the playoffs, let alone on the road and in freezing conditions. Yes, Lance played college football in North Dakota, a state which has an average winter temperature of 21 degrees. However, Lance and the Bison played their home games in the FargoDome, protected from the frigid outside temperatures.
Kyle Shanahan’s offense utilizes far less of the read-option scheme than Roman’s did. Shanahan’s staples are outside-zone runs coupled with quick, inside routes and play-action passes. We’ve seen Lance in zone-read and designed quarterback run situations sporadically this season. The results have been mixed.
Until Kyle Shanahan shows that the full playbook is accessible for Trey Lance, his presence on the field is a bit predictable. Factor in nine years of NFL teams defending zone-read offenses and it seals the door on Lance playing a role in the divisional round. Sure, he could be called upon in emergency duty or Hail Mary situations, but I doubt anyone wants to see the 49ers in either those scenarios.
The 49ers’ best chance of advancing in the playoffs remains under the guidance of Jimmy Garoppolo. Like it or not, this season belongs to Garoppolo.
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