Earlier this season, Kyle Shanahan said he stopped inserting Trey Lance into the lineup because he couldn’t predict how defenses were going to play him once he got into the game. Yesterday during his conference call, Kyle Shanahan said it took some time in Sunday’s game for him to learn the same thing.
“Having Trey in the whole game allowed us to get a feel for how Houston was defending him. When you put on a game plan to how a defense plays a quarterbacks, they’re always going to play quarterbacks somewhat similarly, until you get to a quarterback who can run and guys always have to adjust a little bit for the different types of plays that come with the threat of a running quarterback. And those are adjustments you want to see. How much does shotgun affect the defense, the pistol? When they are accounting for them, what type of defenses does that get you? And it definitely got us some different defenses versus Houston than what we had seen on tape than what we were anticipating. But, when he is going be in there the whole game, then you start to get a feel for it and see how they want to stop Trey. And that’s what was so hard when we were bringing him in for a play or too earlier in the year.”
The way I see it, that’s a pretty revealing answer on many levels, and it tells me three things.
First, we could see more slow starts by the offense in the future. Because Lance has only started against two teams, Shanahan doesn’t know how each specific team is going to deviate from their normal defense against the 49ers. As Chris Simms has explained it several times, Kyle Shanahan’s strength is that he figures out the “rules” of your defense and then uses them to his advantage. With a mobile quarterback under center, Kyle can’t learn the rules of the defense against Lance because he hasn’t seen them yet. Therefore, the 49ers essentially have to take their best guess as to what the defense will do and then adjust after they’ve seen a few drives.
The second thing it tells me is that the 49ers are relying heavily on their defense early in the game with Lance under center. It’s critical that the defense does not allow the other team to get up by multiple scores before the offense has a chance to get rolling. While that’s also true while Garoppolo is under center, there’s a better chance the offense can hit the ground running with a healthy Jimmy G. in the game.
The third thing it tells me is that it could be very difficult for Trey to come in the game if Garoppolo were injured or ineffective this week. In that case, there would be fewer possessions available for the 49ers to learn how the Rams were attacking Lance, and thus, less time for them to adjust.
It will definitely be tempting for Shanahan to try and gut it out with Jimmy Garoppolo this week for all of those reasons. Kyle knows the Rams' defense well and knows what Jimmy is most comfortable with against them. However, if they go that route, the 49ers had better be confident that Jimmy can play effectively with that injured thumb. If that isn’t the case, they may not be able to depend on Trey Lance to come in and save the day.