Lance shakes off rough start to lead 49ers to victory; 5 Burning questions answered

The San Francisco 49ers (9-7) shook off a slow start to defeat the Houston Texans (4-12) 23-7 at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.

After struggling to get on track in the first half behind rookie quarterback Trey Lance, the 49ers offense found a rhythm after halftime with several big plays on their way to 20 points.

San Francisco came into the day with a chance to wrap up a playoff spot, however New Orleans was able to defeat Carolina. As a result, San Francisco now finds itself needing to win next week against the Los Angeles Rams to guarantee themselves a spot in the NFC playoffs.

Here are five questions to watch for on Sunday.

  1. Will Kyle Shanahan adjust the gameplan he used with Trey Lance against Arizona? YES

Apart from a couple series early in the game, it looked like Kyle Shanahan was asking Trey Lance to run the regular 49ers offense.

 The 49ers offense was a bit disjointed throughout much of the first half, however things began to change late in the first half.

Taking possession at their own 25 with only 38 seconds left to play, San Francisco road the right arm of Lance to move the ball 56 yards on six plays.

Lance connected with Deebo Samuel for 17 yards on the first play of the possession. Two plays later, Lance found Brandon Aiyuk down the right sideline for a gain of 27.

A holding penalty by Tom Compton pushed the 49ers to the edge of Robbie Gould’s range, but Lance would again find Brandon Aiyuk on the right sideline for 12 yards to set up a 37-yard field goal by Gould as time expired.

On the opening play of San Francisco’s second possession in the second half Trey Lance showed the difference he can make for the 49ers offense when he tried to connect on a deep throw down the middle to Brandon Aiyuk.

The play featured Aiyuk running a corner post route deep after play action. While Aiyuk was unable to make the grab, Houston was forced to interfere with the receiver resulting in a 37-yard pass interference penalty.

Three plays later, Lance would find JaMycal Hasty to convert on third down, and on the next play Lance would hit Elijah Mitchell while rolling to his right for a touchdown to give the 49ers their first lead of the game.

Lance wasn’t done yet, opening the fourth quarter with a bang by finding Deebo Samuel deep down the middle of the field for a 45-yard touchdown. This came off the same play that earlier resulted in the long pass interference, only this time they were able to connect.

For the game Lance would complete 16 of 23 attempts for 241 yards, two touchdowns and the one interception. It may not have been smooth, but it was a good performance considering it was only his second career start.

  1. Will the 49ers commit to running the football? YES

Houston came into the game allowing 4.7 yards per rushing attempt, a number San Francisco was able to match on Sunday.

The 49ers running game gained 175 yards on 37 carries, led by rookie Elijah Mitchell.

Making his first start since suffering an injury at Seattle on December 5, Mitchell was asked to carry the ball 21 times against Houston. Mitchell responded with 119 yards, including a 37-yard burst late in the fourth quarter to help put the game away.

  1. Can San Francisco keep the Texans running game under wraps? YES

Houston has struggled to run the ball all season. The 49ers defense made sure that would be the case again on Sunday, holding the Texans to only 86 yards on 27 attempts.

Leading the way for the 49ers run defense were linebackers Fred Warner and Marcell Harris. The duo combined to lead the 49ers with 25 tackles, including one for loss by Warner.

In addition to the linebackers, Arik Armstead showed up in a big way with eight tackles to lead the way for San Francisco’s defensive line.

  1. Will the 49ers pass defense get to Davis Mills? YES

Davis Mills came into the game against San Francisco averaging 264 yards passing over his previous three starts.

On Sunday the 49ers defense held the rookie third round pick from Stanford to only 163 yards with 21 completions on 32 attempts.

The 49ers pass rush was able to hit Mills eight times and sack the quarterback on three occasions. Arden Key led the San Francisco pass rush with four hits on Mills along with one sack.

Jordan Willis also recorded a sack of Mills while Samson Ebukam and Arik Armstead teamed up to sack Mills late in the second quarter. This sack was big in that it helped get the 49ers offense back onto the field and in position to put the first points on the board for San Francisco in the game.

With the pass rush putting pressure on Mills, the 49ers secondary did its job as well. Rookie Ambry Thomas almost recorded his first interception when he stepped in front of former Michigan teammate Nico Collins on a third down in the second quarter.

While Thomas came close, it was Marcell Harris who would get the key takeaway for San Francisco early in the second half after the 49ers offense turned the ball over on downs.

With Houston facing 3rd and 3 on San Francisco’s side of the field Harris, converted from safety to linebacker during training camp, would step in front of Texans receiver Chris Conley to intercept the pass from Mills.

The San Francisco offense would find its way into the endzone to score on the ensuing possession and take a lead the 49ers would not relinquish.

  1. Can the 49ers hold onto the ball? Not quite

The bad news for San Francisco was Trey Lance threw a bad interception. The good news is Davis Mills did the same to even it out. 

It was a bit of a rough start for Lance as he missed a few open receivers. The biggest miss came on 1st and 10 early in the second quarter. Lance had Deebo Samuel wide open down the right side, however he tried to get the ball to George Kittle on a leak route on the opposite side of the field.  Kittle was open but Lance short armed the throw and Texans cornerback Desmond King II was able to come down with the interception.

From that point on, Lance played very well and did his part to lead the 49ers to victory.

Prediction:

49ers 26 Texans 16

This article has 45 Comments

  1. Lance played OK in the 2nd half, not “very well”. First half was awful.
    The pass to Deebo was a wobbler, others were thrown low or behind.
    He seems indecisive and hesitant.
    They played one of the worst teams and they didn’t score a TD in the first half

      1. If Jimmie had played like Lance did, he would have gotten an B+
        If Lance continues to play like he did, we have a bleak future ahead!
        This opponent should have been a walkover, even for a rookie…

  2. Trey’s start wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t very good. I don’t see how we could beat the Rams next week if he starts. He’s very young with little experience but with lots of potential.

    1. KS says Garoppola likely to start even if he’s not 100%. Three first round draft picks
      plus a third now seems like a real stretch for someone “very young with little
      experience but with lots of potential.”

  3. Anyone catch the fact that Shanny let Trey air it out with 38 seconds left in the half? He didn’t have confidence in Jimmy last week with over a minute left. Same in the Super Bowl.

    Just thought it was interesting he was okay with letting a struggling rookie go for the score before the half.

    1. The 49ers were up 10 points against the Titans. They were down a touchdown against the Texans. 49ers didn’t get the ball in the 2nd half against the Titans. They did today against the Texans.

      Shanahan likes extra possessions.

  4. I am a little disappointed with Lance rushing ability. He does not really seem that fast and he is a power runner not very shifty.

    Anyone else agree? Idk I just feel a little underwhelmed so far.

  5. Trey is going to be a good QB but its gonna take couple of years. Certainly not next year. Shanahan and Lynch screwed up giving up so much draft capital for him.
    They would have probably gotten for a much lower cost. Did not need to sit at number 3.
    I wonder what the niners are gonna do next season

  6. “Per Next Gen Stats, the 49ers posted their highest air yards per attempt and yards gained on throws beyond 10 yards in the last three years”

  7. Cant judge Lance yet. Too little to go on. But I do think we can judge his mobility. In my opinion Jimmy Garoppolo is just as mobile as Trey Lance (if not more mobile).

      1. I hope Trey develops as an effective sneak as Jimmy possesses. With his higher center of gravity that may not be in the cards, even though he’s only listed 2 inches taller.

    1. This comment is a bit of a head scratcher. Jimmy is one of the least mobile QBs in the league. I’m not even considering his running prowess (or lack thereof). He’s not very good at shifting within the pocket either.

      Lance isn’t a speed demon (at least at the NFL level) but is somewhat likely to produce yardage when taking off much like Josh Allen. He won’t burn you on sweeps outside the tackle but he should be a tough guy to pull down due to his size, strength and mobility.
      He at least he showed some ability to maneuver inside and outside the pocket to buy time to throw.

  8. Must win versus Rams

    1. Both Trey and Shanahan seemed hesitant in the first quarter. It is obvious Shanahan trusts Trey . Like Gavin says above he didn’t run out the clock at the end of the first half like he would have with Jimmy. BTW, his best throw of the game was on that drive which was 40 yard incompletion down the right sideline to Aiyuk. Perfect ball which Aiyuk couldn’t come down with.
    1A. I am surprised Sherfield didn’t get more snaps. He has a good chemistry with Lance.
    2. Our running game looked great. We need more JWjr.
    3. Is our D Line better without Kinlaw. I think so.
    4. Warner had a huge game but we need more depth at LB. I am not sure Greenlaw is the answer.
    5. We need better corners. We need more depth at CB. Replacing Norman with Johnson isn’t an upgrade. When is Eman coming back.
    6. From around the league: AB is a headcase. He is both a very talented WR (top 5 all time) and also very crazy. Speaking of headcase , Jalen Ramsey threw a punch at hisS Rapp yesterday mid-game. See you boys next week.
    7. Speaking of the HOF, no one more deserving than Patrick Willis.

    1. Replacing Norman with Johnson isn’t an upgrade

      Rollo, I’m glad Ryans made the switch. If not an upgrade, it at least stanched the bleeding.

      The only thing that keeps me from having nightmares about our CBs next week is Staffords history of coming up short when needed.

    2. 3. I think Kinlaw would help against teams like the Colts, but overall at this point the D-line seems better without him starting. Much credit to DJ Jones who is always a stud inside for us.

      4. We have a lot of depth at LB. It’s an embarrassment of riches compared to other teams. It just so happens several of them were injured yesterday. The trio of Warner, Al-Shaair and Greenlaw is excellent. Back that up with Marcel Harris and Flannigan-Fowles (serviceable) and, in a pinch, I think Hufanga could play the role as well if desperately needed. That’s the only position group I don’t worry about in terms of depth.

      5. Unfortunately this a position group long neglected in our drafts. In the salary cap era a team can’t be great across the board, and the 49ers felt with a devastating pash rush they don’t need good corners. I think in the 4th quarters when our pass rush always seems gassed in big games, having solid corners could make a world of difference.

      6. I found it nuts what AB did just like everyone else. My immediate second thought was “this guy is a walking billboard for CTE research.” This is not a scientific or medical diagnosis, but he hasn’t been the same since those two head shots he took from Vontaze Burfict in that game five years ago. That’s not to excuse his behavior, but something has seriously changed in his head since his earlier days in Pittsburgh, when he was a more selfless HoF type receiver who would even give his all when run blocking. It’s just sad to see and I fear he’s had some serious brain injuries along the way. Again, I’m not basing this on anything other than general observation. Who knows. I hope we don’t find him dead in the next 10 years. :-/

      1. Whether it’s CTE or some other cause, he has some issues that he should probably try to address. As you point out he hasn’t always been a knucklehead, so CTE is plausible. I wish him good health.

    3. “ 3. Is our D Line better without Kinlaw. I think so”. Kinlaw was injured and and they were trying to insert new players into the rotation. The D line got better after moving Armstead inside and the new players getting more reps in the system. When healthy, Kinlaw is going to be great in the run game.

  9. Titans top AFC seed.

    0Reasons, 0.0Patriot, do you still argue Niners should have beaten them last week because Tenn is the inferior team?

  10. All I needed to hear from Trex ……

    “I think I got into a better rhythm, probably settled in after that two-minute drive. I think that is when I started talking to [quarterbacks coach] Rich [Scangarello] and [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] and kind of let them know that I felt settled, honestly. But yeah, hopefully, can get started faster, whenever that next time is.”

    He is humble enough to let his coaches know he had settled – kinda like humble enough to ask for directions.

    Future is very bright – I just pray Kshan will just stop trying to be YODA – playing chess and just go with it – the play calling before the TD was terribly standard…….I believe the 1st TD came from the 1st play action play in the game

  11. Re-watch highlights on youtube

    Trey aka Trex is going to be special – I am telling you this guy would bring out the best in Kshan.

    He looked way better in the pocket. He is more productive when his receivers are on the go-route – passes more to the outside.

    Kshan will need to adjust and reduce the number of slants or crossing passes to the middle.

    Best part of the Trex Show…He looked “programmed” “no swag” with all the play-action plays except that long one to Deebo.

    On that play I finally saw him put the “um” in the fake – in the previous play action fakes = Interception, 4th and 1 turnover

    He is definitely searching for that sweet rhythm – Kshan needs to just stop being too cute – lets stay with the run but we need more big plays – no reason we shouldn’t have at minimum 10 passes thrown over 40 yards a game

  12. The one issue that has dogged the 49ers offense all season long, is their utter inability to make defenses pay a price for stacking the box with EIGHT, sometimes NINE defenders. This has been an open source of frustration for the 49ers, starting week 3 VS Green Bay.

    However, Per NEXT GEN STATS, yesterday, the 49ers posted their highest AIR YARS PER ATTEMPT and YARDS GAINED on throws beyond 10 yards, in the last THREE YEARS!

    Conclusion: As I have been saying all season long, Trey Lance can be an absolute GAME CHANGER, for the 49ers offense THIS SEASON! And now you see why!

    1. I would never root for any player to get injured, but Jimmy Garoppolo’s most recent injury just may have saved the 49ers season! I’m not going to lie, this is not an ideal situation for a rookie QB who is only going to have 3 NFL starts under his belt entering the postseason. And I also have a hard time imagining that, had Trey been named starter from week one, that the 49ers would have gotten off to a worse start than their 2-5 record thru the first 7 games, with Jimmy as the defacto starter. And it’s hard to imagine that Trey Lance wouldn’t be much, much further along in his development, and much more confident as a player, heading into week 18, with the 49ers postseason hopes hanging in the balance,

      And having said that, I can also say with a high level of confidence that …..

      Jimmy Garoppolo’s thumb injury may very well end up saving the 49ers season, which also means that Jimmy’s thumb injury likely saved Kyle from himself!

      Hallelujah!

      And one other thing is a near certainty: Trey Lance will enter 2022 as a better QB now, than he would have if he only had his one, week-four start!

      1. Kshan says JimmyG starts against the rams

        I just feel with Trey his interceptions make sense – JimmyG’s interceptions makes no sense and it is predictable.

        And we need those deep passes – we can’t just pound our way to victory – Jimmy is not giving us those big pass plays…..

        CRAZY STUFFthe 49ers posted their highest AIR YARS PER ATTEMPT and YARDS GAINED on throws beyond 10 yards, in the last THREE YEARS!

        1. “ I just feel with Trey his interceptions make sense – JimmyG’s interceptions makes no sense and it is predictable”.
          That’s an absolutely ridiculous statement. Laughable.

  13. Shanahan and Lynch know what they have in Trey. He is a young QB that will allow Shanahan to utilize his full arsonal of offensive weapons.
    The only thing missing in Lance’ game is experience and when he has more games under his belt he will florous in this offense.

    It may take 5-7 games next season for Trey to find his groove, but once he gets it, Shanahan will be able to do some of the things that Andy Reid is doing in KC.
    Fun times ahead!

    1. You don’t think Trey can win ALL + SB if we ran the similar plays JimmyG ran during the last playoff run ?

      1. Trey needs to get a complete grasp of Shanahan’ playbook. He will need to deliver his playbook awareness on the field. And, he will need to read defensive alignments that may change from week to week.
        It may take a full season for Lance to master all this and hopefully much sooner, but we should see improvement from game to game along with a few hiccups.

        Real game experience is what he needs.
        I expect him NOT to make the same bone-head mistakes that Jimmy G does after being in the league a few years.

          1. No. Not as a starter. That job goes to Jimmy because of his experience. But, Trey could be used in certain packages now that Shanahan is more confident in his development.

  14. Watching Trey in the second half of the game yesterday gave some reason for optimism though expecting him to lead the team into the playoffs might be a bit much.

    Keys to beating the Rams are same as they’ve always been – run, run, run, rattle the QB and force turnovers. Here’s hoping Shanahan doesn’t get too cute on Sunday. Rams are very beatable as long as you stick with the strength of this team. Play physical, control the ball, let Stafford get impatient and put Trey in a position to succeed against a MUCH better D than what he faced yesterday. This of course assumes Jimmy’s done for the year (again).

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