Trey Lance wouldn’t have won 49ers Week 13 game vs. Seahawks
By Peter Panacy
Yes, the 49ers should have transitioned to Trey Lance earlier this season, but even he likely wouldn’t have been the difference-maker versus the Seahawks.
Full disclosure, and before you think this is a hot-take assessment of San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance: Head coach Kyle Shanahan should have made the full transition from veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to Lance earlier this season, if for no other reason than to admit the Niners’ future hinges on Lance’s development and success and not the results of whatever happens in 2021.
Shanahan is continuing to stick with Garoppolo, likely basing his reasoning on the thought Jimmy G gives San Francisco its best shot at making the playoffs this season.
After an ugly and disjointed 30-23 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks, one in which Garoppolo tossed two interceptions that netted the Hawks 10 points in response, it’s fair for some to think Lance would have been the better option.
Except he wouldn’t have been.
Again, not an indictment against Lance. Not an endorsement for Garoppolo either. Just the admission the 49ers’ fourth consecutive loss to Seattle was the result of a myriad of problems by Shanahan’s squad including special teams gaffes, an inability to get the run game going, offensive disappearances in the second half and self-inflicted mistakes on all three phases.
Lance wouldn’t have solved much of that.
Seahawks pass rush would have teed off vs. Trey Lance
The Seahawks don’t boast an elite pass rush, boasting just 19 sacks this season, but that didn’t stop them from loading the box in an attempt to completely negate the Niners’ run game, thereby daring Garoppolo to beat them through the air.
For the most part, it worked. Despite his marginal success, running back Elijah Mitchell still led a San Francisco ground attack that averaged a mere 2.8 yards per carry in Week 13. And Garoppolo, despite throwing for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns, couldn’t overcome the two-interception mistakes.
To date, rushing has been about the only element of Lance’s game that doesn’t need refinement. Yet Seattle would have still crowded the box and forced Lance to throw through the air, too, while likely facing an uptick in pressure from blitz packages.
That’s what opponents have done to Lance, both in preseason action and on the limited occasions when Lance has taken the field during the regular season.
About the only X-factor Lance would have brought is the ability to scramble for chunk yardage, yet the loaded boxes from the Seahawks’ defensive front would have made that challenging for Lance to do much of anything on the ground.
Trey Lance still needs to learn how to pass against pressure
Lance’s preseason NFL debut against the Kansas City Chiefs revealed this weakness, as Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo elected to bring blitz packages against Lance after his initial success.
The end result was Lance taking four sacks in roughly two quarters of play, and the entire preseason data suggests this was a problem anyway.
According to Pro Football Focus, Lance’s preseason passer rating dropped from 93.9 without facing pressure to a lowly 39.6 when facing it, and then it dropped to 22.1 when facing blitzes.
Since Lance has only been scantly active during the regular season, including one lone start and a mere half a game played against the Seahawks way back in Week 4, it’s somewhat inconclusive to fully grasp how Lance would have fared if he somehow was to start Week 13.
Still, Lance’s regular-season numbers with and without facing pressure are telling:
- Kept Clean: 104.3 passer rating
- Pressured: 45.4 passer rating
The Hawks would have stuck with their eight-man boxes all day, daring Lance to diagnose coverages and throw quickly.
Considering Lance’s average time to throw this season has been 3.38 seconds, that probably would have worked fully in Seattle’s favor.
49ers still need to shift focus on Trey Lance, not Jimmy Garoppolo
None of this is intended to say Lance will be a bust or that Garoppolo is the long-term answer. The latter, certainly, isn’t going to be the case. Garoppolo is a lame-duck quarterback, and both he and the 49ers know it.
Related Story: What Trey Lance must do to justify 49ers draft investment
Still, Shanahan isn’t likely to pull the plug on Garoppolo until the Niners are eliminated from the playoffs, either during the regular season or once the postseason commences, assuming San Francisco makes it.
That might not be the right approach, though, as Lance’s development now still carries a lot of implications for his future success.
Kickstarting that process sooner than later can help ensure Lance overcomes these initial setbacks, which he would have still experienced against the Seahawks, and turns into one of those quarterbacks who can, unlike Garoppolo, carry an offense on his shoulders.