Kyle Shanahan deserves criticism for Trey Lance season-ending injury

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan talks to quarterback Trey Lance (5) Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan talks to quarterback Trey Lance (5) Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports /

Yes, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan should receive a good deal of heat for how he handled Trey Lance leading up to the quarterback’s season-ending injury in Week 2.

Two things can be equally true. And in the current moment, after the San Francisco 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks 27-7 in Week 2, that statement should probably apply to head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Shanahan is a good head coach. The Niners have had considerable success under him.

However, he is also deserving of criticism when applicable. And how he’s handled quarterback Trey Lance, leading all the way up to the second-year pro’s season-ending ankle injury suffered against the Hawks during the game, needs to be highlighted as much as anything else right now.

Granted, Lance’s scrambling and rushing abilities are part of his allure, stemming from the 1,100 rush yards and 14 rushing touchdowns he enjoyed with North Dakota State back in 2019, which certainly aided him in being drafted by San Francisco at No. 3 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Yet there’s a difference between a running quarterback and a quarterback who can also run. The 49ers want and need the latter. They won’t get it until 2023 at the soonest.

Three runs against the Seahawks by Lance. All three in the middle of the formation on what’s called QB power. And it shouldn’t take too much analysis to conclude that subjecting a quarterback to sustained rushes, particularly against bigger-bodied defenders in the box, increases the risk of injury in contrast to whatever benefits there are with the plays themselves.

Shanahan called for these plays. In the wake of Lance’s injury, the head coach deserves some of the fallout.

Kyle Shanahan defends decision to run Trey Lance vs. Seahawks

Shanahan gave some context about the play in his postgame pressure, mentioning how that particular formation can lead to a number of different options, one of which led to wide receiver Deebo Samuel picking up 52 yards a few plays earlier.

However, when questioned whether or not continuing to rush Lance on designed runs between the tackles was the right move, Shanahan made the following comments (h/t 49ers Webzone):

"Anytime a guy gets hurt I wish I didn’t call that. But, no, that’s something we were going to do and something we would continue to do. That’s a football play we believe in and something that gives him a chance to be real successful in this league.Do you guys watch other teams in this league? Buffalo does it all the time with their quarterback (Josh Allen). It’s a pretty normal play. It’s part of football. It’s unfortunate that he hurt his ankle on it but it’s a very normal-ran play. Watch some other people."

Definitely a defensive posture. Perhaps a little frustration emanated from the response, too.

Yet Shanahan had to be aware of the heightened risk associated with Lance using his legs instead of his arm. All one has to do is rewind back to Lance’s rookie-year first start against the Arizona Cardinals in which, on one particular rush, he suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss the following week’s game.

Read More: Kyle Shanahan confirms Trey Lance’s 2022 season is over amid injury

It’s possible that was a warning for what ultimately happened in Week 2 of 2022.

How much criticism should Kyle Shanahan receive for Trey Lance injury?

There’s a fair argument that Lance’s rushing prowess helps make up for his relative lack of experience throwing the ball, and without that rushing ability, the quarterback’s current stock value is nowhere close to where it needs to be for a playoff-caliber team.

However, Shanahan didn’t need to subject Lance to extra punishment, particularly between the tackles against an inferior Seahawks defense.

For some context, Shanahan has dialed up plenty of strong rushing attacks with an immobile quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, over the years. Lance’s running prowess is a nice asset to have, not a go-to option.

Specifically, with regards to Week 2, Shanahan got running backs Jeff Wilson Jr. and Tyrion Davis-Price to perform at high levels — the Niners ultimately finished with 189 rush yards and averaged 4.2 yards per carry — meaning there was little need to rush Lance, especially in between the tackles when San Francisco held the lead.

And while the allure to run Lance was always going to be there, it’s the quarterback’s passing efforts that need refinement.

Either have Lance work on his passing rapport or simply rely on him handing the ball off to what was already an effective ground attack from the 49ers’ crop of tailbacks.

Shanahan elected not to go that route, and the Niners’ prized investment from the 2021 NFL Draft is now massively set back in his much-needed development.

Next. 49ers will feel these massive ramifications from Trey Lance's injury. dark