Conventional NFL wisdom says that a veteran quarterback is more likely to protect the ball than a rookie playing in this third professional start. In the case of the 49ers, however, the opposite may be true. Football Night in America’s Chris Simms pointed this out on the Monday edition of the Chris Simms Unbuttoned Podcast.
“It’s easier and less risky to play it the way Trey Lance is playing it. It is. Throwing the ball outside the numbers - less crowded people there. Throwing the ball down the field - there’s less crowded people there. Instead of where Jimmy Garoppolo is throwing the ball. Because he does not have the arm that Trey Lance has, that’s f*cking danger area. I look at that and go, ‘Holy sh*t!’ Every time you’re throwing the ball you’re going, ‘Oh I hope it gets through there. Oh, I hope he doesn’t get hit and the ball pops in the air and it’s intercepted.’ Man, that’s living dangerously. That’s one of my issues with the 49ers’ offense.”
Objectively speaking, Garoppolo does most of his work in the middle of the field. In Sunday’s game against the Texans, Lance’s passes were far more spread out and definitely deeper down the field. Take a look at the comparison between Lance on Sunday and Garoppolo the week before.
With just two full starts under his belt, it’s far too soon to draw any conclusions about which part of the field Lance will favor as a passer over the long haul. For Garoppolo, however, it’s clear that he lives in the hash mark area, where the highest concentration of defensive players are usually located.
The data matches up with what our eyes are telling us. How many passes have we seen get intercepted that are just a tick off target? That bounce off a receiver’s hands and into the arms of the defender? Looking ahead to next week, can you count on a quarterback with a torn ligament in his throwing thumb to be precise enough to protect the ball in such a congested area of the field? Is it even fair to ask him to try?
We likely won’t know for days who the 49ers are going to start at quarterback against the Rams, but this is just one more thing Kyle Shanahan is going to have to consider when making the biggest decision of the season.