Trey Lance injury reinforces 49ers need to change

Quarterback Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Quarterback Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The 49ers subjected rookie quarterback Trey Lance to multiple hits in his first NFL start in Week 5, and his latest knee injury is revealing what needs to happen moving forward.

An odd and frustratingly annoying San Francisco 49ers 2021 season just got a little bit more frustrating and a tad bit more annoying following the team’s 17-10 Week 5 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday.

Yes, the big story was rookie quarterback Trey Lance making his first-ever NFL start in the wake of Jimmy Garoppolo being absent with a calf injury. And, yes, there were plenty of signs that Lance will be the real deal… eventually.

You’ve probably heard the never-going-away adage how “mobile quarterbacks don’t last long in the NFL” by now. Chances are, you’ve probably heard someone say it about Lance. Maybe you even said it.

We can argue that if we wanted, as the real truth is mobile quarterbacks can last, yet quarterbacks who don’t avoid hits likely won’t.

And in Lance’s case, he certainly didn’t do his best to avoid contact. Particularly on this admirable-but-ineffective goal-line rush attempt:

At the same time, though, the Niners didn’t exactly do Lance many favors in the attempt to keep him protected. And according to the latest news from Monday, perhaps head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. have to rethink their approach to how the rookie is going to be used from this point forward.

49ers must weigh risks vs. rewards regarding Trey Lance injury

On Monday, Shanahan revealed to reporters Lance suffered a knee sprain at some point during the game. Shanahan’s exact words were:

"It’s not a long-term injury. We should have a good idea of it in the next week, whether he’s got a chance for Indy or not. If he doesn’t, they told me it should be like a one to two week thing, but possibly just one."

San Francisco enters its bye this week and won’t play again until Sunday, Oct. 24 versus the Indianapolis Colts. So, the two-week window could easily afford both Garoppolo and Lance the necessary time to get healthy.

And for those thinking Shanahan is creating a smokescreen about Lance’s injury to reassert Garoppolo as the starter, he isn’t. Shanahan doesn’t need a veiled story to revert back to the veteran over the rookie. It sounds like a nice conspiracy, but there’s no point to it.

At any rate, the real question here is evaluating why Lance got hurt in the first place. In total, the No. 3 overall NFL Draft pick was hurried 14 times and hit six times, not including instances where he rushed out of the pocket in attempts to gain yards on the ground.

On top of that, Lance rushed 16 times for 89 yards, subjecting himself to even more hits.

Lance will run. That’s a positive trait, and it would be foolish for Shanahan to completely rein in that skill set, particularly knowing the rookie rushed for 1,100 yards back in 2019 at North Dakota State. Yet there is a way to limit that number, especially by holding off on many of the designed runs Lance operated in Week 5.

49ers offensive line needs to protect Trey Lance better

Lance’s injury isn’t squarely on his own efforts and unwillingness to stay in the pocket. Nor is it completely on Shanahan.

The 49ers offensive line gave up only two sacks during the game, yes. But all those pressures and frequent mismatches on the strong side of the formation, particularly Cardinals EDGE J.J. Watt versus Niners right tackle Mike McGlinchey, led to more than just the occasional rusher converging on Lance.

Related Story: What worked, what didn’t for Trey Lance in first NFL start

True, it’s difficult for an O-line to adapt quickly to a mobile quarterback, especially when this unit has been used to blocking for a statue-like signal-caller like Garoppolo. Yet that’s where time, practice reps and chemistry have to come into play, and Shanahan is going to be responsible for infusing the two, ensuring Lance understands his O-line and vice versa.

At the same time, though, San Francisco’s O-line had four accepted penalties against it during the game, forcing Lance into some unneeded and lengthy down-and-distance combos he’s not quite equipped to handle.

In this case, all parties getting back to the basics would produce a lot of benefits.

And in all likelihood, help avoid even more potential injury setbacks. Even if this first one is minor.

Next. 3 things Kyle Shanahan must fix now after loss to Cardinals. dark