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49ers' SNF Loss Exposes Why San Francisco Needs Trey Lance

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystOctober 25, 2021

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) passes against Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Darius Leonard during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Tony Avelar/Associated Press

Sunday's waterlogged affair between the San Francisco 49ers and Indianapolis Colts will provide all the excuses necessary for Jimmy Garoppolo to remain the NFC squad's starting quarterback. However, it should do the exact opposite since it exposed why he isn't the right man for the job. 

Forget for a moment that the 49ers traded up in this year's NFL draft to select Trey Lance with the third overall pick because the reason behind his selection and how he fits into Kyle Shanahan's offense is far more important than the franchise's overall investment. 

The entire argument goes back to what head coach Kyle Shanahan said the day San Francisco drafted Lance: 

"You start to watch some of that stuff with him and I just, I loved his natural ability to play the position, which was very impressive. Then when you add on a type of running element, which I've always been intrigued with but when you've got a guy who's got the skillsets, as far as speed and size to where you're not going to make them a runner, but if you can get in certain formations where the defense knows you will run them, if they don't honor them, now everything's different. If you can ever get a guy like that and make 11 on 11 football, then I think you've got a guy who can change some things for you, but it always comes down to, 'Yeah, you can dabble in that,' but you better be confident they can do everything else." 

Former All-Pro tight end George Kittle expounded on his coach's points less than two months later when he saw Lance on the field. 

"He's a freak athlete. I think really one of my favorite things about him right now just as a rookie, is that he takes risks," Kittle said on Good Morning Football. "Like, he doesn't complete all the passes that he throws, but he's trying to fit into those small windows. And he's just trying to throw it as hard as he can to get it to that wide receiver going through maybe the second window. And I think that's really fun to see a guy take risks."

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The traits each described are why Lance should be the 49ers' starting quarterback for the rest of the season after seeing Garoppolo's performance during Sunday's 30-18 loss. 

Quite simply, the veteran quarterback is a cog in the machine, while the rookie can be the engine that drives the machine. 

Ralph Freso/Associated Press

Will there be mistakes, and will Lance experience some growing pains? Absolutely. But his skill set differentiates and potentially elevates what the 49ers can do offensively. Garoppolo doesn't, hence why the team chose Lance in the first place. 

Yes, the conditions were horrible during Sunday Night Football. An atmospheric river blew over the Bay Area and saturated the field, those playing the game, the balls, the officials and every fan in attendance. Clearly, everyone had trouble handling a wet football, which resulted in multiple turnovers. Somehow, Carson Wentz still managed to make enough plays for his team to win. 

Essentially, the 49ers' offensive output boiled down to two drives.

Their scripted opening possession leaned heavily on rookie running back Elijah Mitchell as he sliced his way through the Colts defense for 57 yards and a touchdown on five carries. Garoppolo contributed with two short passes for 18 yards. 

San Francisco's offense didn't really get going again until the fourth quarter. How did they finally get off the schneid? Shanahan used pocket movement and rollouts on Garoppolo's three completions, including a 14-yard strike to Deebo Samuel, to bring the team within two points. 

The next two drives proved disastrous when Garoppolo threw ever-so-slightly behind his receiver for cornerback Xavier Rhodes to snag the interception. When pressing late in the game, the 49ers signal-caller threw into triple coverage with no chance whatsoever of a completion and Colts safety Khari Willis grabbed yet another errant pass.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 24: Carson Wentz #2 of the Indianapolis Colts scores a first half touchdown past Jaquiski Tartt #3 of the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Ima
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The two biggest differences seen between Wentz and Garoppolo is the former's ability to 1) serve as a rushing threat and 2) drive the ball down the field even in inclement weather to create opportunities for his receivers or force defenders into pass interference penalties. Garoppolo is not a premium athlete, and he's never had the strongest arm.

Shanahan didn't have the same conviction he did earlier in the year when asked whether Garoppolo would remain the starter. When pressed after the contest, he told reporters, "I would guess so."

The coach also stated he'll go back and look at Garoppolo's performance and see what the injury situation is for next week. 

Currently, Lance is dealing with a sprained left knee he suffered in his first start. The rookie signal-caller still led the 49ers with 281 yards from scrimmage in the Week 5 loss to the undefeated Arizona Cardinals. 

While the injury remains a concern, Lance brings the athleticism and raw arm talent the team desperately needs. An argument can and has been made about what a veteran presence brings to the offense. Yet, the 49ers are still struggling with a 2-4 record and they don't seem to be anywhere close to catching the Cardinals or the Los Angeles Rams. Besides, the argument in favor of a limited, albeit experienced, quarterback doesn't exactly jibe with utilizing the team's future at the quarterback position. 

"I don't think you learn anything holding a clipboard," Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said last year during an interview on 100.9 FM in Alabama. 

Arians has Tom Brady leading the team now, but he also shaped a young Ben Roethlisberger and Andrew Luck during his career. 

Furthermore, the team already seems confident in Lance's abilities. 

"He actually has like a confident aura around him where you just start to believe in him the more you're around him," left tackle Trent Williams said earlier this month. 

Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

Lance would allow the 49ers to utilize more pocket movement, designed runs and run-pass options. He led the team with 89 rushing yards in his starting debut. Wentz isn't the most athletic quarterback, but the Colts used some of the same concepts Sunday, and he lumbered for key yardage. Lance is a legit difference-maker when he gets into space, creating chunk plays as a runner. In doing so, his presence working the edges or designed runs up the middle will hold defenders in place for an extra second, thus creating more space when others look for available running lanes.

The young signal-caller's comfort level as a passer will need to grow in the coming weeks. At the same time, Lance can drive the football to all three levels, making the entire offense more difficult to defend. By showing the ability to stretch the field or at least threaten the chance of doing so, it opens up the whole offense.

Considering Shanahan's passing attack is directly tied to his vaunted ground game, a quarterback who actually creates more opportunities just by being on the field is the logical choice, even if he needs some time as he grows into the starting role.

When everything isn't going right, or the weather isn't helping, the 49ers can be comfortable in the fact that Lance brings a chance to make a play for them as a runner or passer more than Garoppolo ever will.

      

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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