The San Francisco 49ers (2-3) received a stellar effort from their defense only to see an inept offensive performance result in a 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers fell to 2-3 and will go into their bye on a three-game losing streak.
Let’s take a look back at some of the key plays from Sunday’s game.
1. Overutilizing Trey Lance in the run game.
Kyle Shanahan went away from his identity against Arizona. Facing a defense that came in allowing the third most yards per carry in the NFL, Shanahan took the game away from his running backs.
While he ended up calling a total of 24 running plays, Shanahan put the ball in the hand of Lance 12 times, leaving the other 12 to be split between Elijah Mitchell, Trey Sermon, Deebo Samuel and Kyle Juszczyk.
Shanahan is a proponent of creating what he calls 11-on-11 football, using the quarterback as the runner, due to the mismatches it can set up. The 49ers were unable to make this work on Sunday. Lance averaged 3.7 yards per attempt compared to 5.3 by the other four which also included a touchdown run from Samuel.
2. Trey Lance made some nice plays.
The 49ers second pass play of the game was a classic Kyle Shanahan shot play. Lance has Deebo Samuel running a wheel route up the left sideline and Travis Benjamin running a deep curl. At the top of his drop Lance has both receivers covered. He climbs the pocket which moves the linebacker and creates a throwing lane to Benjamin.
While this play results in a turnover, the way Lance keeps his eyes down field and attempts a throw to the open receiver instead of just taking off is impressive. Looking to pass instead of just taking off at the first hint of pressure should help speed up Lance’s development.
Lance actually has Deebo Samuel open early on the over route but doesn’t see it right away, instead pulling the ball down and climbing the pocket before making the throw for a 26-yard gain. As he did on the first play, Lance does a good job of keeping his eyes downfield while moving in the pocket.
Presnap the Cardinals show a seven-man pressure. Although two drop out after the snap, Lance does a terrific job of recognizing the defense and getting the ball out quickly with touch to his hot read, Kyle Juszczyk, for a gain of 18 yards. This is good recognition by the rookie quarterback.
This is easily one of the best throws from a 49ers quarterback so far in 2021. The cornerback covering Brandon Aiyuk falls off and is replaced by safety Budda Baker who is all over the inside of the receiver. Lance shows off his arm strength and accuracy to fit the ball into Aiyuk’s left side and the receiver makes an outstanding one-armed catch before breaking free to convert a second and long situation.
3. Trey Lance had some rough plays.
There were at least 3 holding penalties called on the #49ers as a result of Trey Lance holding onto the ball. Here are two examples. Ball is supposed to come out quick to the underneath receiver, first Juszczyk, second Samuel. pic.twitter.com/kDBv2QN5tX— Jack Hammer (@JackHammer_NFL) October 13, 2021
As should be expected with a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start, Lance had some rough patches show up. Outside of the overthrow to Benjamin early on, there were a number of times in which Lance would hold onto the ball resulting in a holding penalty being called on an offensive lineman. This happened at least three times during the game, but we’ll start with these two examples because the play calls were similar.
Both of these plays are meant to be quick throws to the underneath receiver, basically a downfield screen. On both occasions Lance hangs onto the ball instead of hitting the open man. On the first play it is fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and on the second play the open receiver underneath is Deebo Samuel. These are about as simple as it gets which makes one wonder what Lance is seeing.
Lance gets locked onto Kyle Juszczyk who is running a Texas route out of the backfield and misses two open throws down the field, Ross Dwelley down the right seam or Deebo Samuel on the out. Due to Lance not getting the ball out on time, Trent Williams is forced to block Chandler Jones longer and this results in another holding call.
On the 49ers final possession, Lance has Brandon Aiyuk open on a deep crossing route but instead chooses to throw the deep fade to Deebo Samuel and it falls incomplete. Aiyuk has a step on the defensive back. One of the traits he showed in college was to not put the ball in harm’s way and pass up open throws at times as a result. This is the type of throw Lance needs to take when it presents itself.
One last observation from this game. Kyle Shanahan put a lot on a rookie who was making his first start. Not only did he put the ball in the hands of Trey Lance on 47 of the 59 snaps, there were a number of times in which the quarterback was left alone in the backfield. That’s not typical of the 49ers during Kyle Shanahan’s tenure.
For San Francisco’s offense to get back on track and to give Trey Lance the best chance to succeed, Kyle Shanahan needs to run mostly the same offense with Lance that he does with Jimmy Garoppolo, with a only a few designed quarterback runs thrown in.