Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Lance makes 49ers’ offense more dangerous than Jimmy Garoppolo

Rohan Chakravarthi
Jan 3, 2022 at 11:30 AM--

Sunday against the Texans was Trey Lance's second career start and his performance was nothing short of eye-opening to watch.

Lance threw just 23 times, completing 16 passes for 248 yards, and added eight carries on the ground for 31 yards. Additionally, Lance threw for two touchdowns and one interception in the 23-7 defeat of the Houston Texans.

As the 49ers Twitter account noted, "it wasn't always pretty." The 49ers struggled to move the ball in the first half as Lance seemed—at times—uncomfortable and overwhelmed by the Texans defensive look.

During the first half, as expected, San Francisco relied on the run game against an inferior Texans run defense, and had some success, as Lance and Co. led drives of 30 yards and 56 yards, but failed to get any points on the board.

However, after Kyle Shanahan elected to actually use his timeouts at the end of the first half to get the offense another opportunity, Lance began to let it fly, hitting Deebo Samuel first, and then Brandon Aiyuk multiple times, to set up a field goal and cut the Texans lead to 7-3 heading into halftime.

After the game, Lance even attributed that drive as the one that got him into a rhythm, which he relayed to head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Rich Scarangello at halftime.

"Probably settled in after that two-minute drive, I think that is when I started talking to [quarterbacks coach] Rich [Scangarello] and [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and kind of let them know that I felt settled, honestly. But yeah, hopefully can get started faster, whenever that next time is."

The 49ers offense adapted beautifully to the defensive looks the Houston Texans deployed in the second half, leading a 56-yard drive on the opening possession, although once again, they failed to convert on 4th down in Houston territory, leaving points on the board.

However, after that, through a variety of efficient runs and deep passes, Lance led two touchdown drives and two field goal drives to put the game comfortably away for the 49ers in his first action since October.

While the quarterback status is up in the air for Week 18, what was the difference in Lance and Garoppolo's play?

Well, looking at the quarterback charts of Lance's start and Garoppolo's numerous starts this season, there is a drastic difference, despite running the same Kyle Shanahan-schemed offense.

A repetitive pattern this season with Garoppolo has been the reluctance to not only throw outside the numbers, but also to throw the deep ball. While I understand that Garoppolo has still managed to move the ball efficiently through the middle of the field for half of the games this season, he's also been seen on tape willingly choosing not to target an open Brandon Aiyuk on his deep corner routes between the second and third level of defenses due to the difficulty of the throw, since it's outside the numbers.

Step in Trey Lance, whose chart shows a completely different story. Against the Texans, with much better pass protection than during his first start in Arizona, Lance aired the ball out to all areas of the field: short, deep, over the middle, outside the numbers, etc. And, as a result, the run game also benefited, leading to Elijah Mitchell's 21 rush, 119 yard afternoon on the ground.

Garoppolo's been efficient over the second half of the season, limiting turnovers for the most part and operating to his strengths, but it's fair to be amazed at the potential that Lance brings to this offense with his ability to not only stretch the field through the air, but also with his legs. If he can establish an earlier rhythm in the pass game, which will come with more experience, imagine the possibilities with his running ability.

Now, of course, it's just one game, against an inferior Texans defense that ranked bottom-five against the run and below average against the pass. But, it's a sign of what could be with Lance and the 49ers, and now, San Francisco understands that they have two legitimate quarterback options for the rest of 2021, which could make next week's decision easier should Garoppolo "not be 100%". If you haven't heard, the veteran quarterback suffered a torn UCL ligament in his thumb, which Ian Rapoport reported will likely require surgery in the offseason.

And, Week 18 isn't without its pressure, as San Francisco needs a win to clinch a playoff spot, or some help from the Falcons against the Saints to move forward in their 2021 season.

While the starter likely won't be named till near the end of the week, it'll be exciting to see how this story develops, especially with what's on the line next Sunday.

Interestingly enough, the 49ers face the Rams at the exact time the Saints face the Falcons next weekend: 1:25 PM PST. In addition, the Cardinals, who could win the NFC West with a win over the Seahawks AND a Rams loss to the 49ers, play at 1:25, making it extremely likely that there'll be no resting players for any of the four teams next Sunday.

The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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