The Trey Lance Era: All Paths Lead Through the Survival Fires
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Quarterback changes seem to hit the San Francisco 49ers and its fanbase harder than most teams. Maybe it’s because some of the Faithful remember the change from Joe Montana to Steve Young and the divisions that created among the fans. There were clear Joe and Steve People for a few years, though that war has long calloused over.
Since then, the 49ers have gone through quarterbacks like a fickle junior high student who cannot settle on a date for the dance.
Yesterday, the 49ers began to turn the page on veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for rookie Trey Lance.
Lance’s debut was far from perfect, and I understand the frustration watching the 49ers let another close game slip through their fingers. There were too many penalties and a slight feeling of an offense operating in chaos rather than harmony.
But if you watched the game and are ready to rip Lance to shreds, I highly suggest a deep breath and a cup of hot tea.
Consider the following points as you mull the Week 5 loss in your head for the next two weeks:
First, the 49ers’ offensive line hasn’t played with a mobile quarterback during Kyle Shanahan’s tenure. That’s a significant adjustment to make from a quarterback who stands still versus someone who hits his back foot, climbs the pocket, and tries to make more happen.
Lance moving in the pocket and extending a play is going to result in holding penalties. There’s a point where a lineman can’t rely on perfect technique to make a block. He’s going to make an error.
There’s no denying right tackle Mike McGlinchey had a rough game, and his performance deserves a better look with the all-22 tape. But like the other men around him, he’s never played as a professional with such an active passer.
And yes, tipped passes are on the offensive line. Blaming the quarterback is a sophomoric argument.
Second, this is Lance’s first NFL start. Not every rookie quarterback walked into his first start and threw for 450 yards and five touchdowns. If those were your expectations, then I suggest bringing those down to reality.
Lance made more happen with his feet and avoided problems rather than succumb to a muddy pocket. Indeed, Lance might look at one receiver first and then bring the ball down to run. Shanahan and his staff can work with Lance to get through his progressions, which is not a sky-is-falling problem.
Also, keep in mind: The era of the straight dropback quarterback is an endangered species. It’s been on a slow decline since Steve McNair entered the league. Pocket presence and footwork are still vital, but an offense gets a return on investment with a quarterback who manufactures plays.
And yes, the “wobble” football or “he has no touch on the throw” arguments are also sophomoric. Please rewatch the sideline throw to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and ask if Garoppolo could make a similar throw.
Third, I would like to see Shanahan call more timing plays for Lance – say three-step drop plays like “Lion” or “Omaha.” These plays might get Lance more confident with his footwork and reads earlier in the game.
Additionally, use more movement plays that bootleg Lance outside the pocket. Cutting the field with essentially a flood pass left or right is far easier to dissect as a quarterback than a play with crossing or choice routes.
Fourth, despite the deep veteran experience, the 49ers’ offense is raw and wildly undisciplined. While the defense had its hiccups, it somehow found a way to make up for its errors. Unfortunately, the offense cannot dig itself out of holes no matter the depth.
In these most perilous times, it is far better to have less thunder in the mouth and more lightning in the hands.
Lance is that lightning.
Imagine that yesterday’s loss was the absolute floor for a Lance-led offense – a few stalled drives, a few locked-on reads, and the wrong diagnosis of a handful of coverages. There’s plenty to improve upon and a sky-high future.
Live football is what will forge Lance; practice and scout team reps will let him languish.
I’m not anti-Garoppolo – I’ve watched enough of his tape to know he’s reached his limit as a professional quarterback. Defensive coordinators know what Garoppolo’s best game looks like and can craft a defense around it.
Long-term success for Shanahan and the 49ers is through Lance. I fully understand why Garoppolo won the starting job after the preseason, but there’s no reason now to make the switch to the rookie.
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