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Trey Lance’s quest to be “a lot better than last year” begins in earnest tonight

Lance faces a familiar opponent

The last time Trey Lance played the Texans, he said he needed to get a touchdown out of the way before feeling ready to roll. If he’s going to make good on the statement he made to Albert Breer earlier this week, Lance will have to keep rolling tonight against the Houston Texans.

“I’m going to be a lot better than I was last year,” he told Albert Breer, “Everything’s slower.”

It was a surprising quote from someone who hasn’t really been known to blow his own horn in his short time with the 49ers. When you raise expectations like that, the spotlight will shine on you just that much brighter.

“A lot better than I was last year” means people don’t want to see janky-looking throws at Kyle Juszczyk’s feet. It means people don’t want to see receivers reaching back for the ball over the middle of the field instead of being hit in stride. While it goes without saying that no one should expect perfection or anything close to it at this point, you diminish the amount of patience people have when you tell them ahead of time that you’re going to be way better than you were.

It sure would be nice to see some of that tonight. Kyle Shanahan is planning on playing the starters for at least a couple of drives, which will be the first real look we’ll get at the first-team offense this year. In the only other game Lance played this preseason, his starting receivers were Ray-Ray McCloud and Jauan Jennings. That won’t be the case this evening. With 17 days between this game and the start of the regular season, Shanahan is going to want to get some game time for as many stars as possible.

The Texans, for their part, appear to be willing to provide a challenge. Coach Love Smith has said he plans to play the starters in this game. Defensively, Houston is expected to get defensive linemen Jerry Hughes and Maliek Collins to run with the first-team defense.

Houston has generated 11 sacks this preseason, for what it’s worth, so the inexperienced offensive line will get tested. Derek Stingley should be guarding either Deebo Samuel or Brandon Aiyuk. It’s not going to be exactly like a regular season game, but it will be as close as you can in the preseason - at least for a while.

Kyle Shanahan has said the one thing he values about preseason games is watching how players perform under the bright lights. Tonight, the 49ers will be in prime time in the debut of Thursday Night Football exclusively on Amazon Prime. Amazon reportedly has told potential sponsors it expects 12.5 million viewers per game. While the real number is likely to be less than that, there will be plenty of eyeballs watching.

Download today’s Gold Standard podcast with myself and Levin Black for a full preview of the game. We dive into Trey Lance, the running back situation, and the unsettled nature of the offensive line. Available anywhere podcasts are found.