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Film room: It’s time to start Trey Lance and never look back

Trey Lance will likely make his first NFL start this weekend and the 49ers should name him the full time starter. Film room looks back his first significant game action versus Seattle.

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Jimmy Garoppolo era in San Francisco could be coming to an end quicker than anyone realized. The starting quarterback was apparently injured on the game’s first drive versus the Seahawks on Sunday but, for some reason, stayed in the game the rest of the half. The results were primarily disastrous as the offense could not move the ball and score after a rhythmic open drive. They eventually lost 28-21.

Lance came in to start the second half without warning. It was a shock to everyone that Garoppolo was pulled from the game as there were no broadcast announcements about an injury during halftime. Only after Lance came in did anyone scramble to get information. All that was said was a “calf injury.” Even Jimmy wasn’t too sure what or when it happened.

Lance’s second-half performance had a little bit of everything for everyone on both sides of the quarterback debate. He showcased what his talent and skill can do for the run game, he was wildly off-target on his first throws of the game, he put the ball in harm’s way on a couple of other throws, later on, he moved off reads quickly and found his open receivers, and other times he scrambled when no one was open and gained first downs with his legs.

Lance showed that he should be the starter versus Arizona on Sunday and for the remainder of the season despite a shaky performance. This offense needs a spark, and he can, and will, give it to them.

Zone read and the running game

Lance’s first series was entirely zone-read running game and zone-read mesh action designed handoffs that slow the defense’s pursuit and keep their eyes glued to the backfield.

The first play of the second half was a zone read to the weak side with a bluff or arc block by the fullback. The arc block essentially is a lead blocker for the quarterback if he keeps the ball. The play went for 15 yards after Lance gave the ball to running back Trey Sermon.

The fullback initially faked like he was going to kick out the defensive end in an attempt to influence the defender, but the defender stays parallel, so Lance gives the ball to Sermon. The bluff block is enough to make the edge defender hesitate and opens a small crease for Sermon to gain 15.

They essentially flip the play and run it from a slightly different formation and with Kittle as the arc/bluff block on the next play. You can see the defense searching out the ball carrier as this is all happening, allowing Sermon to gain another seven yards.

The offense got to third down and was in prime position to convert while running quarterback counter bash, a play they showcased in the preseason against the Raiders. On counter read, the running back would typically be the one to follow the pulling offensive linemen, usually a guard/tackle combination.

Bash counter flips the quarterback and running back responsibilities. The quarterback becomes the inside runner on bash counter, and the running back becomes the outside runner. Its misdirection is inherently built-in. The pullers go one way, and the running back and lead blockers go another way.

One missed block was enough to stall a promising drive. Lance reads the weak side defensive end to his left and decides to keep the ball due to the threat of pursuit of the running back. As Lance presses the line of scrimmage and gets behind right guard Daniel Brunskill, the defender engaged with Brunskill sheds him and hits Lance in the hole and stops him for a gain of roughly two yards.

It also appears that Trent Williams, the pulling tackle, might have also missed his assignment by not getting to the running lane and instead of engaging the defensive lineman with center Alex Mack. Brunskill’s missed block is primarily why the play goes nowhere. However, with more reps, miscommunication should become a non-factor.

Passing game struggles

Missed checkdowns

Lance struggled early on in the passing game, and it started immediately on his second drive when he threw a pass in the dirt to George Kittle on a play-action keeper.

It’s not entirely certain if it was just nerves, but there didn’t seem to be anything mechanically wrong. He just threw it in the dirt.

Into the fourth quarter, Shanahan attempted to get Lance into a rhythm to settle his quarterback down, but there were times when the game seemed a bit too fast for him, and he missed seeing check-downs that would’ve helped him ease into the transition and slow his processing down. This is to be expected after weeks of virtually no preparation for the backup.

In the first clip above, Lance had to check down options in the flat. Everything looks good until he has to look for that final option before running. The play call has two deep blaze-outs by the wide receivers that are covered with no throw.

Lance moves around and appears to climb the pocket before pulling the ball down to run. However, the pocket is clean, and at the very least, he needed to take the dump off to Kittle to his right.

He had Sanu open underneath the coverage on the same drive but looked to break the pocket as soon as a pass rusher broke into the backfield.

Missed open receivers

For the most part, Lance only missed a couple of receivers downfield, and you can seem trying to sort his feel for the pocket that I am confident will come with more reps. On a couple of these, he’ll recognize on film that he has a clean pocket, know what it felt like, and I suspect it will slow down for him.

Here Lance has Jauan Jennings (No. 15) coming open on a swirl route past the sticks. Lance is processing everything well right up to the moment he looks to break the pocket when Jennings turns around. Had space to climb into to throw, but he tucked it and tried to make a play with his legs. Again, with reps, this will slow down for him in games. And in this game, it did.

Why the 49ers drafted lance

Eventually, Lance settled down and threw passes on target that moved the chains except on dropped touchdown pass to Kittle over the middle.

On 4th down, Lance converted on a designed play-action keeper rollout. It looked as though Lance might tuck it and run, but the Seattle defense quickly reacted to his sprint out. Deebo was running free over the middle of the field as Lance hit the brakes, sidestepped a defender, and fired a pass to Deebo ahead of the line to gain.

Later in the fourth quarter, Lance found Sanu on an under route after maneuvering through a muddy pocket.

You can see Lance begin to get more comfortable keeping his eyes downfield and looking for second and third options. And he was under pressure on ten dropbacks too. Mike McGlinchey does all he can to keep Carlos Dunlap (No. 6) out of the backfield, but he’s able to swat at Lance’s arm. Lance expertly protects the ball with two hands, steps through the pocket, and finds Sanu open past the sticks.

It wasn’t just on short throws where Lance showed his best stuff, and from the pocket, he fired a nice anticipation throw down the middle of the field to Kittle, who dropped it after safety Jamal Adams hit him at the goal line.

Kittle is running vertically up the seam toward the end zone, and as soon as he clears the linebacker, Lance is throwing that ball before he even uncovers. The pass is a little high, but Bobby Wagner is an all-pro linebacker, and Lance needed to put it above him and between the safeties.

He maybe could’ve put it lower inside, but that seems excessively nitpicky on a throw Kittle should’ve caught. Adams just made a great play and knocked it loose. The anticipation and arm talent is why they drafted him, though.


Trey Lance needs to be the starter the rest of the season, even if Jimmy is healthy and ready to go. He missed too many throws in the first half and continues to show why they’ve been looking to replace him since the end of the 2019 Super Bowl season. They have a chance now to cement Lance as the starter, and we’ve seen what he does for the offense when he’s in. It’s time to let him grow and flourish.