It’s still somewhat bizarre that 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan downplayed starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s injury as a thumb sprain. Within minutes, national reporters told us Garoppolo’s thumb injury was more severe than Shanahan led on.
In his defense, Shanahan doesn’t owe us a full explanation. We’ve seen plenty of coaches throughout the years do the same, where they give little to no information on injuries. The competitive advantage is worth it.
If this is indeed the beginning of Trey Lance’s tenure, I thought it’d be a good idea to go back to Garoppolo’s last start against the Titans to see what Lance could take away from Jimmy. Of course, Garoppolo made mistakes, but he also went through his progressions quickly and did a few other things that we may take for granted.
Most rookie quarterbacks get stuck on one receiver for the duration of the play. There were plenty of dropbacks during Lance’s first start where he would drop his eyes and take off if his first read wasn’t there. The hope is with 2.5 months of seasoning; Lance has improved in that regard.
The 49ers' offensive line has allowed the sixth-lowest pressure percentage in the NFL this season. It’s easy to remember the three to four plays a game when they make a mistake. But the five players up front have been superb in pass protection this season. Lance slowing down in the pocket and being patient will go a long way in the offense’s success.
In the breakdown below, I highlight Garoppolo converting on 4th & 1. Jimmy extended the play with his legs, waited until the last second to deliver the ball, and it paid off.
He’d want different results, but on two throws specifically, Garoppolo does a fantastic job of getting to the backside read of the passing play. That’s generally Deebo Samuel sprinting over the middle of the field wide open. During December, Jimmy was excellent at going through his progressions and getting to the right spot. That’s an area to keep an eye on with Lance.
Of course, last Thursday was far from Garoppolo’s best performance of the season. It’s as simple as reading the defense. On his first interception and his second would-be interception, Jimmy throws it into the teeth of the defense, where Tennessee wants the ball to go.
Had Garoppolo read the defense, those mistakes don’t happen. Instead, locking in and pre-determining your throws lead to missed opportunities down the field, which was highlighted below.
That’s another area of Lance’s game to keep an eye on. How comfortable is he going through multiple progressions and playing on time? Is he late to get to his check down? If Elijah Mitchell, Kyle Juszczyk, JaMycal Hasty, or whoever the pass-catcher out of the backfield has room to run after the catch, that’s an indication that Lance is playing in rhythm.
Lastly, I want to see how Lance pulls the trigger compared to Garoppolo. One sack Jimmy took was inexcusable, why another play, albeit a completion, was a prime example of why the process is more important than the result.
Jump to 17:21 below:
If Lance hits Aiyuk on that corner/out route, then we’re in good shape. That means he’s trusting what he’s seeing and is confident. Those are the types of throws he’ll need to make against a Texans team that lives in Cover 2.
Houston has played more Cover 2 snaps than any other coverage. Lovie Smith is their defensive coordinator, and he has always been that type of coordinator. Houston allows 12.7 yards per reception when they’re in Cover 2 and, as a team, have a PFF coverage grade of 43.6.
The opportunities will be there for Lance. Will he take advantage?