49ers vs. Rams: Week 10 must be tipping point to start Trey Lance

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 may be edging closer to starting Trey Lance over Jimmy Garoppolo, but Kyle Shanahan has to draw a line in the sand, which should be Week 10 against the Rams.

Head coaches are supposed to be vague even if they claim to be fully honest. San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is no different.

And while it probably made sense way back in Week 1 to start veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and not the high-profile rookie, Trey Lance, the context of the situation entering the Niners’ Week 10 home bout against the 7-2 Los Angeles Rams changes things significantly.

San Francisco, losers of four of its last five games, finds itself 3-5 and boasts a 23.9-percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to pre-Week 10 analysis from CBS Sports. And while there are plenty of other factors that only recently played themselves out over the weekend, another 49ers loss would take a huge toll on those already-low playoff odds.

Garoppolo has played well enough the last two weeks, including one win and one loss against the Chicago Bears and Arizona Cardinals, respectively, at least not poorly enough to lose his job.

Yet there’s that key moment, the proverbial “line in the sand” Shanahan must determine when it comes to making the switch that’ll take the focus off the “now” and put it towards the future with Lance under center.

That moment is Week 10 against Los Angeles.

Kyle Shanahan still non-committal about 49ers starting Trey Lance

A promising backup quarterback is the most popular player on any struggling team, so the calls for Lance to start now certainly aren’t surprising. Especially considering the fact he’ll be the future for the Niners at some point, a statement Shanahan himself has previously admitted.

But, with each passing loss, San Francisco’s focus on winning in 2021 becomes less important, while the need to develop Lance and his preparations for 2022 and beyond becomes greater.

Shanahan might be inching closer to making this change, at least based on his comments on KNBR 680’s Murph & Mac Show last Friday:

"I’m as eager for that as everyone else is. There’s no hidden agenda here to not play the guy that we committed a ton to, but my biggest commitment, no matter what the pressure is, no matter what anyone says is that we’re going to do it when it’s right for Trey and when it’s right for our team. And we don’t think it’s that moment yet. Could be very soon."

You can listen to Shanahan’s appearance below:

Shanahan also hinted starting Lance didn’t necessarily have to coincide with being fully eliminated from the playoffs, which would assuredly be the moment Garoppolo has to be benched, saying, “when his time does come, whether it’s this week, whether it’s next week, whether it’s, you know, if we get eliminated from the playoffs, whenever it is, I want to make sure he’s the most ready possible for himself and for the team.”

Why 49ers vs. Rams must be tipping point to start Trey Lance

Los Angeles’ defense is good, No. 10 overall in scoring this season, and it’s only better now with the pre-NFL trade deadline pickup of former Denver Broncos EDGE Von Miller.

It might have its advantages, yes. But throwing Lance all out into the fray in Week 10 as the 49ers’ starter could be more detrimental than good for the rookie’s confidence, particularly when factoring in he only had one full season as a collegiate starter, and that was back in 2019.

Related Story: It’s time 49ers give their younger players more snaps

Assuming the Niners lose, as WynnBET currently ranks them as four-point underdogs, the Niners will then be 3-6 and will have lost all four of their NFC West contests to date. Bigger picture, the chance to get back in the playoff discussion will have taken yet another serious hit with the magnitude of needing to play younger players like Lance instead of older veterans who won’t be with the team next year, such as Garoppolo.

Here’s the line Shanahan needs to draw: If San Francisco pulls off an upset over the Rams and Garoppolo balls out, the 49ers can give Jimmy G at least one more week. If the Niners lose, even if Garoppolo plays well, Lance has to start from that point onward.

The schedule affords a favorable opportunity, too, with San Francisco traveling to take on the two-win Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 11, a much better chance for Lance to showcase his growth and maturation in a less-pressure environment against a substandard opponent.

That needs to be the line, Shanahan. Don’t stray from it.

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