Who knows whether Jimmy Garoppolo will start for the 49ers against the Texans Sunday. Jimmy attempted to practice Wednesday but was seen walking off the field before the media could get an eye on Garoppolo.
Kyle Shanahan has been adamant that a player must practice to play the following Sunday. So Trey Lance took all of the first-team reps Wednesday. We’ll keep an eye on whether Jimmy practices or not as the week goes along.
If Lance makes his second start, let’s set realistic expectations. Here’s what a few members of our staff expect to see from Lance against the Texans.
Since Lance’s first start, a few things have changed. Deebo has become a running back, Brandon Aiyuk left the doghouse, and Shanahan realized how much sticking to one gameplay helps him react to the defensive adjustments helps him. Heavy doses of Deebo out of the backfield will make Lance’s life easier. I think Aiyuk running harder and freer than before could lead to some QB-WR fireworks, and I think Kyle will gameplan more effectively with this forced clarity.
In terms of Lance’s QB play, I expect more of the same: inconsistency with elite flashes. He’ll sail some gimmes, give Charlie Woerner an ouchie on his fingers from an unnecessarily hard bullet, and he’ll pick up some nice runs here and there. I feel confident that he will have some “wow” moments and plays, but my open question this whole week is “how many, and when?”. As` a 49er fan, the hope is that his past 12 weeks of practice will lower the rate of mistakes and increase the rate of flashes. After a whole semester of QB 10, is he ready for his first real midterm?
We’ve seen six quarters and a handful of snaps from Trey Lance, professional quarterback. Based on that small sample size, we can take a pretty good guess as to what will happen this Sunday. Shanahan deployed his handpicked protégée in ways that accentuate his athleticism in the run game, and that will obviously continue going forward. Especially when you consider the key to this matchup will be the terrible Houston Texans’ run defense and how best to exploit it.
Currently, they are allowing 4.7 yards per carry, and 141.3 rushing yards per game, ranking them 30th. With the expected return of Elijah Mitchell and the backfield dominance of Deebo Samuel, this could quickly become a contest in which the Niners plan to squeeze the air out of the ball. It’s a game plan that best plays to their strength, maintains control of the clock/pace, and shields the rookie from too many aerial risks.
Could we see more passes down the field and outside the numbers? Absolutely, it’d be hard to have any less compared to Garoppolo, and that’s the advantage of rostering Trey Lance, but I wouldn’t expect a fireworks display from the youngster just yet.
Is it possible for 49ers fans to objectively define a set benchmark for individual productivity from a 21-year-old rookie making their second career NFL start? (HA, gotcha, of course, it isn’t) Unfortunately not, as subjectivity on these matters will always reign supreme. One thing almost everyone can agree on, however, is the ultimate goal of this week is to beat the Houston Texans. (Duh, Jordan, the goal every week is to beat your opponent).
I mention that because Trey Lance is more than capable of piloting an offense that can do enough to beat a Texans squad that has been surprisingly hot as of late. I thought Lance did well in his first start in Arizona, and save for a few minor miscues. I would chalk up to the first team's lack of chemistry/reps. Nevertheless, I thought Lance played well enough to give the 49ers a shot to win that game.
They moved the ball into Cardinals territory regularly; there were just clearly some issues finishing off drives. So if Lance and his dynamic ability can replicate a similar level of productivity between the ’20s in this game, I believe that it means the 49ers should handle business and potentially clinch a playoff birth. Expect a good amount of bootlegs to put the defense in conflict, and I would be willing to bet we see some very innovative stuff with Lance near the goal line as a runner.
My expectations for a 21-year-old kid starting his second career game are pretty simple: Execute the training wheels offense better than Jimmy Garoppolo. A perfect example where Jimmy Garoppolo does this:
Trey Lance needs to do this:
Lance’s pass to Deebo wasn’t particularly pretty, but it was good enough to be caught and go for a touchdown. Jimmy’s pass to Juszczyk wasn’t. It’s that simple.
If Kyle Shanahan wants to do a little more to utilize Lance’s athleticism, great, but all Trey really needs to do is make the easy plays that Kyle teed up for Garoppolo while not giving the ball to the other team. Anything else on top of that is icing on the cake.
This is the time we’ve all been waiting for. Finally, the third overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft is expected to make his second career start against a pretty bad Houston Texans defense. With several months of NFL experience under his belt, I expect Lance to attack the defense with his arm more than some think. In Lace’s six quarters of play, we saw offensive play-caller Kyle Shanahan have a different script than he would with Jimmy Garoppolo. This includes him being more aggressive in going for it on fourth downs.
My main thought as far as game planning is that Shanahan won’t call many designed quarterback runs. Meaning Lance will have plenty of pass attempts, and I think he will clear 30 (attempts). I know it sounds like a lot, but San Francisco’s rushing attack has not been dynamic, and Lance has the opportunity to win the game with his arm. With that being said, I do expect Lance to extend plays with his legs and rush for a few first downs.
Ultimately, I think Lance has the opportunity to have a heroic performance. I’m predicting two passing touchdowns by Lance and at least 275 all-purpose yards in a win to strengthen the 49ers’ playoff hopes.
Lance couldn’t walk into a better situation. The 49ers' offensive line has exceeded expectations and performed like a top-10 unit. If Elijah Mitchell plays, he’ll come with fresh legs. Lance will have the trio of George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk to rely on while having Kyle Shanahan calling plays against a 63-year-old defensive coordinator that runs basic coverages without elite players.
The stage is set for Lance to perform well. However, that doesn’t mean he’ll play mistake-free football. He had a pass sail on the first drive that led to an interception the last time we saw Lance. Rookies tend to get overzealous or rely on what they could get away with in college.
The hope is Lance throws and runs for multiple touchdowns while looking like the No. 3 overall pick. Even as Lance’s coaches and teammates heap praise on him, he’s had 48 attempts this season. There will be inevitable growing pains Sunday, the following Sunday, and next year.
Football is a game of matchups, and there isn’t anything the Texans do that would indicate they’d slow down the 49ers. That remains true no matter who is under center. Lance’s athleticism will help expose a Texans run defense that’s allowed the fourth-most explosive passing plays since Week 9.
A successful running game will lead to big plays via play-action or the Niners using some variation of run-action to control Houston’s linebackers. My guess for Lance’s stat line? Right around 230 passing yards, with 50 rushing yards and three combined touchdowns.