• Travis Rapp

Tailor Made: Adjusting the 49ers Gameplan to Lance's Skillset

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To the delight of at least half the San Francisco 49ers fanbase, the Trey Lance era has officially begun. After trading three first-round picks for the number-three over pick in this past draft, the question has been: when Lance would take the offense over from Jimmy Garoppolo?

Now, due to Garoppolo’s calf injury, Lance will be leading the 49ers attack this week against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals.

Last week, Lance took over at halftime, and after the game we all heard talk of how the offensive attack wasn’t tailored for Lance, but for Garoppolo. With Lance taking all of the first-team practice snaps this week, it can be assumed that the attack against the Cardinals will be designed for Lance and only Lance.

So what can fans expect to see different in Shanahan’s offense with Lance under center?

A Better Run Game

The 49ers’ rushing attack has been mostly ineffective this season due to the amount of injuries the running back room has sustained. Many people believe that with Lance on the field, Shanahan will employ a read-option attack similar to the one he ran with Robert Griffin III in Washington. This seems to be foolish thinking after watching what happened to Griffin his rookie year. Yes, he did earn Rookie of the Year honors, but he also shredded his knee. Shanahan isn’t likely to risk the same thing happening again.

Does this mean that he won’t call any read-option runs? Not necessarily. It just doesn’t seem very likely.

We should expect Lance to be used more of a decoy, faking a keeper around the edge after handing the ball off. Just pulling one defender away from the focus of the play could allow an offensive lineman or fullback Kyle Juszczyk to get a block into the second level. Lance will probably execute seven or so designed runs, but it would be more likely for Shanahan to go old school Madden on his designed runs for Lance.

Remember when Michael Vick was the most feared quarterback on Madden? I know you played against someone who went with an empty backfield, sending the receivers all downfield, just so they could tuck it with Vick and gain fifteen to twenty yards. This type of attack on designed runs for Lance seems more likely. Look at his QB keeper touchdown run against the Packers: Shanahan sent his receivers to the right side of the field and let Lance’s athleticism, along with a monster Trent Williams block, get him into the end zone.

The Arizona defensive backs’ penchant for playing mostly a man scheme along with the 49er receivers’ blocking abilities makes this type of designed run from a passing formation look like the most fruitful option. Lance isn’t as speedy as Colin Kaepernick, but as he showed against the Seattle Seahawks, he has the ability to get upfield fast.

The belief is that just having Lance on the field will force the Cardinals defense to respect his athleticism. If that is true, and if he can break off a good run early on, then the Cardinals’ defense will have to play 11 on 11.

Impact on the Pass Game

When talking about the 49ers’ passing attack there are two types of statistics you will continually hear about: air yards and yards after the catch (YAC). Both have been used to degrade Garoppolo’s ability as a QB, which is interesting since the YAC statistic was created in the 1990s as a way to track how amazing Jerry Rice was after the catch. Fans shouldn’t expect Shanahan’s offense to completely change. He is who he is. There could be a couple difference in the pass game though.

It would make sense for the 49ers to employ more bootleg-type rollouts. The 49ers’ decreased usage of these types of plays might have a reason why the tight end position, mainly George Kittle, has turned into almost a sixth offensive lineman at times. Using Lance’s athletic ability to run play-action rollouts and just simply moving the pocket might allow the 49ers to use the edges of the field more.

They could also employ more leak plays on the back side of the formation, looking for players like Juszczyk coming out after a play-action, or one of the tight ends (Kittle is currently listed as doubtful for the game). This is something Shanahan did a lot in the team’s 2019 run to the Super Bowl, but we’ve seen less of it with Garoppolo’s diminishing ability to move outside of the pocket.

Overall Effect

People insist that when Lance hits the field Shanahan will open up his whole playbook. Many of these same people preached about how Shanahan’s playbook is so complex that it takes a couple years for a QB to understand all of the nuances. Those two sentiments can’t both be true at the same time. Shanahan is who he is. Don’t expect to see his play calls change all that much.

Shanahan also obviously has trust issues at this point of his coaching career. The negativity and journalists’ constant “gotcha” attempts have caused him to retreat into his shell as a play caller. Those same journalists have blamed Garoppolo for this lack of creativity on offense, and it is true Garoppolo has become ultra-conservative in his decision making.

Lance has a stronger arm and might be willing to take a few more chances than Garoppolo has been. Fans shouldn’t expect a completely different play calling though. A few wrinkles here of there might be different, but overall, Shanahan will call his plays and expect his players to be able to run them.


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