We’ve seen enough, it’s time 49ers start Trey Lance

Jimmy Garoppolo #10 and Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Jimmy Garoppolo #10 and Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Three weeks into the NFL season, the 49ers are 2-1. They have looked solid, but the offense has been limited, and it’s time to let Trey Lance run the show.

It’s three weeks into the 2021 NFL season, and the San Francisco 49ers‘ season is off to a good start. They started out 2-0 and then lost to the Green Bay Packers. There is no shame in losing to a great team like the Packers by only one point when you have no corners or running backs, but the loss still stings.

That’s why the start is good, not great.

One part of the Niners game versus the Packers that was certainly not great was the offense, especially during the first half. The 49ers nearly left the first half scoreless until a late-half touchdown drive put them on the board. And that score barely came to be as well. As the clock was running down, San Francisco’s offense needed a spark.

They found it in rookie quarterback Trey Lance.

Lance came in off the bench, and on his first play of the game, ran the ball in for a touchdown. This was not Lance’s first touchdown, as the Niners did something similar in Week 1 against the Lions, although Lance threw the ball for that score. But, a trend may be emerging: When the 49ers’ offense needs a spark, head coach Kyle Shanahan turns to Lance.

After watching three games of this Niners offense, it’s time to get that spark all the time and replace Jimmy Garoppolo with Lance as the team’s starting quarterback.

The reason it’s time for Lance to be the 49ers starter is not that the rookie has made some incredible progress and earned the job. That remains to be seen. But what has been seen is that Garoppolo offers no advantage over playing the rookie, and the extra spark Lance can provide the Niners’ running game means the team can go farther with Lance at the helm.

Why 49ers must make the shift from Jimmy Garoppolo to Trey Lance now

Why do you go with a veteran quarterback over a promising, higher-ceiling rookie? Well, there are a few reasons. The main one is to lean on the veteran’s experience to avoid the inevitable rookie mistakes. A coach can trust a veteran quarterback with more of his offense.

Here’s the thing, though: Garoppolo is not playing like an experienced quarterback this season, and it is becoming more and more clear Shanahan does not trust him. So, if the Niners are not avoiding the risks of playing a rookie quarterback, they might as well try to take the potential reward of playing an extremely talented player like Lance.

At the very least, the 49ers’ run game is vastly superior with Lance at the helm. The reason is simple: When a defense has to worry about a quarterback as a runner, it makes your team a lot harder to defend. With that extra level of confusion in a defense, an offensive mastermind like Shanahan can work wonders, as he has already shown in Lance’s limited appearances this season.

So, let’s take a look at Garoppolo’s performance. Just in the Packers game on Sunday, he made a series of key mistakes. The most prominent of these mistakes was a disastrous fumble in the fourth quarter.

In the face of a fierce pass rush from Packers defender Kenny Clark, Garoppolo attempted to throw the ball away and somehow failed to realize he was facing backward, leading to a backward pass Green Bay recovered.

Perhaps the worst part of watching this play was Garoppolo’s initial insistence that the fumble had been a pass afterward. He seemed to not understand the rules of football at all:

This is the kind of mistake expected of rookies, not of experienced quarterbacks like Garoppolo.

Somehow, Garoppolo managed to not even learn from his mistake, and immediately threw another backward pass on the 49ers’ next offensive play.

Besides the obvious mistakes, Garoppolo’s play was full of missed, inaccurate throws. Jumping first to mind is Garoppolo’s interception on a deep attempt to tight end George Kittle that was picked off by Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander:

Now, that is much more of a spectacular play by Alexander than it is an error by Garoppolo. However, the ball was clearly overthrown, just grazing Kittle’s fingers as he was fully outstretched. Just as he did in Super Bowl LIV with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, Garoppolo overthrew a potential game-changing deep pass.

Garoppolo missed many other passes throughout the game, too. Some of the most exciting plays of the game were the result of Garoppolo throwing the ball far above his receivers’ heads and forcing them to make spectacular catches and withstand brutal hits just to come down with the ball.

The gap between Garoppolo and this year’s rookie quarterbacks is narrowing and narrowing.

Through three games, Garoppolo had thrown for 760 passing yards, while the first rookie on the list, Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars, had thrown for 669 over the same three-week span. That difference of fewer than 100 yards can easily be explained away by the fact that the 49ers’ roster talent is in a completely different stratosphere than the Jaguars.

But here is where that number gets interesting. In air yards, Garoppolo only has 390 compared to Lawrence’s 461. Nearly half of Garoppolo’s passing yards have come from his receivers picking up yards after the catch.

49ers’ Kyle Shanahan doesn’t trust Jimmy Garoppolo anyway

This leads to our next point, Shanahan clearly doesn’t trust Garoppolo and prefers to let the offense’s explosive plays come after the catch. Now, this recipe took the 49ers a few blown holding calls on EDGE Nick Bosa away from a Lombardi Trophy two seasons ago, but the team drafted Lance because Shanahan wants to get away from this model.

Shanahan is continuing to hold Garoppolo’s hand in this offense, preferring to lean on short passes and a strong run game. Perhaps this loss to the Packers is just what happens when the run game fails to show up.

Read More: Impartial assessment of Trey Lance’s efforts vs. Packers

Regardless, this is the type of hand-holding that is typically done for a rookie quarterback in the NFL.

If the 49ers are already treating their quarterback like a rookie, why not start the actual rookie? You know, the one who has two touchdowns on seven snaps? The one whose rushing ability opens up the Niners’ elite run game even more?

We’ve seen enough of what San Francisco can be with Jimmy G at the helm. It’s time to start Lance. The Niners will go as far as the quarterback can take them, and we’ve seen how far they can go with Garoppolo.

Now, let’s see if Lance can take them farther.

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