As the Niners took the field on Sunday, a new era dawned underneath a torrential downpour so heavy that stadium lights were needed to supplement a sorely missed sun in the early afternoon. It was under those lights that Trey Lance began his tenure as the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, a team most agree has a roster primed for a Super Bowl run. Unfortunately, the first step was backward, resulting in a 19-10 loss.
The fans aching for the return of Jimmy Garoppolo or those simply hoping to stoke the flames of discontent with the Niners' personal pivot will want to place the blame at the feet of Trey Lance quickly. However, he simply wasn't the biggest contributing factor to this outcome.
The Niners squandered an early scoring opportunity with a red zone fumble by Deebo Samuel and played conservatively on offense while leading the game's first three quarters. However, even these facets could be overlooked when yoconsideringhe more glaring issues that plagued the Niners.
Here's a breakdown of the three biggest reasons why the season is off on such a disappointing note.
Let's start with the most obvious issue from Week 1. The 49ers tallied 12 flags for a total of 99 yards, which placed them second and tied for first, respectively. The constant stream of penalties, born out of consistently sloppy play on defense, extended two drives that ended in scores. Kyle Shanahan pointed this out explicitly in the post-game.
"We had two stupid penalties that led to 14 points. Real disappointed in us." -Kyle Shanahan— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) September 11, 2022
The most egregious foul by far was Dre Greenlaw's facemask on David Montgomery. It occurred midway through the 3rd quarter on a 3rd down run play, which had already been stuffed for no gain by a gang of Niners. The aggressive linebacker threw himself into the fracas and found his hand wrapped around the ball carrier's mask. Boom. A free 15 yards.
The Bears' next scoring drive featured not one but two San Francisco penalties on 3rd down that allowed Chicago to continue marching towards a touchdown. First, Mooney Ward held down the field on a Justin Fields scramble that wasn't enough for a first down. Later, Azeez Al-Shaair went helmet to helmet with David Montgomery and gifted the Bears another chunk of 15 yards before they took the lead for good.
The conditions in Chicago were what you might describe as not ideal. As if on cue, right after the Bears took the lead, the skies, which had calmed for most of the game, began to open up. The rain looked light when Lance threw his first pick, leading to the last Bears' score, but a few minutes later, when the 49ers' comeback attempt should've been mounting, you could hardly see the action through the sheets of water.
Soldier Field was looking crazy today. pic.twitter.com/S8BTL0quej— Alex Tran (@nineralex) September 12, 2022
The Niners' offense stalled completely, turning the ball over on downs twice in the game's closing minutes. There's no real insight to glean from data gathered in these moments. Could any quarterback be expected to perform at peak efficiency under such circumstances?
While the other two issues should eventually take care of themselves with a lot of discipline and a little luck, this might be the most troublesome with the hardest fix. The offense line did not provide clean pockets for their young quarterback throughout the entirety of the game, resulting in two sacks of Lance.
Out of his 34 dropbacks, Lance faced pressure 12 times. Most concerning of all, the Bears didn't blitz even once to generate those numbers. They sent four rushers on every snap and managed to disrupt the second-year player 35%.3 of the time.
Over a whole season, this would land near, if not at, the very bottom of the league. For a young quarterback lacking experience, there are few things more valuable than time to operate, especially if he has the arm to attack downfield. Downfield routes for receivers take longer to develop, and Trey Lance didn't have near long enough to make those types of connections on over a third of his attempts.
If the offensive line doesn't get better, it won't make much difference who's taking the snaps.