The 49ers are expected to start Jimmy Garoppolo, not Trey Lance versus the Rams in Week 10, but the high-profile rookie can still make an impact.
But they probably won’t.
Sure, it’s tough to bench quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo after back-to-back impressive efforts against the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals in Weeks 8 and 9, respectively. And even though the Niners went 1-1 in those contests, including a deflating 31-17 loss at the hands of a shorthanded Cardinals squad, Garoppolo nevertheless wasn’t the reason behind that particular defeat.
Yet, with each passing loss and San Francisco falling deeper within the NFC West, the focus needs to be on the future.
And that means Lance.
Perhaps it should mean Lance as soon as the 49ers’ next game, a Monday Night Football bout against the 7-2 Los Angeles Rams. While giving a raw rookie a start against one of the best defenses in the NFL isn’t always a recipe for success, Lance still managed to flash enough promise during his inaugural starting debut against a much healthier and better Cardinals squad back in Week 5.
On the road, nonetheless.
Lance hasn’t seen the field since, though. Sure, there’s been an injury mixed in there that kept him questionable a couple of weeks. But head coach Kyle Shanahan has shied away even from mixing in those occasional plays for Lance that were much more frequent earlier in the year.
It’s time to change that.
49ers need a spark, Trey Lance can give it
Removing the 33-point effort in Week 8 against the Bears, the Niners have failed to score 20 points in their four other last contests. Even with Garoppolo playing better as of late, Shanahan’s offense has nevertheless fallen flat, and it’s costing the defense, too, which is certainly going to be susceptible to a highly potent Los Angeles squad that just recently added superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Whether or not Beckham is ready to go by Monday night isn’t of concern, though. What is, however, is the need to give San Francisco’s offense a fresh look.
Lance might not be ready to fully grasp a potent pass rush, which the Rams certainly possess. But what he does have over Garoppolo is the ability to toss deep, a trait that can help negate what LA would otherwise do against a limited Garoppolo deep-passing attack.
Furthermore, Lance’s mobility also helps thwart that same pass rush. Even if the 49ers elect to start Garoppolo Monday night, the situational use of Lance should be back on Shanahan’s playlist.
Even to the point of forcing the rookie into the game.
Rams may be vulnerable to Trey Lance anyway
Lance has a long, long way to go in his development. If he starts, or even if he only sees a modest amount of snaps, there’s a chance things don’t turn out anywhere near as expected.
Yet there’s a noticeable context where Lance could take advantage of Los Angeles’ defense.
LA is strong at its defensive line, namely thanks to All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the newly acquired EDGE, Von Miller, while its secondary is led by arguably the best cornerback in the game right now, Jalen Ramsey. Yet the Rams aren’t anywhere near as prolific at linebacker, a unit Pro Football Focus ranked 30th entering the season.
Linebackers are typically the players responsible for chasing down mobile quarterbacks, or at the very least, spying them.
Case in point, Los Angeles had a tough time trying to track down Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray during its Week 4 loss to Arizona. And while Murray didn’t have to use his own legs to rush much, taking off just six times for 39 yards, his ability to evade defenders was a big reason behind the Cardinals’ 37-20 victory, one of only two losses the Rams have suffered this season.
On the year, Los Angeles has surrendered a total of 146 rush yards to quarterbacks, who are averaging 4.7 yards per scramble.
Maybe that’s part of the formula, too, if Lance can’t use his legs to merely extend plays.
Either way, there’d be nothing more important than letting Lance display his raw-but-potent talents against a top-end defense under the bright lights of Monday Night Football.
The Niners and Rams kick off on Monday, Nov. 15 at 8:15 p.m. ET at Levi’s Stadium.