Trey Lance holds key to 49ers success in 2022

Ask almost anyone what they see as the biggest question facing the 49ers is for 2022, and most will tell you the interior of the offensive line.

San Francisco is going through a rebuild upfront, Laken Tomlinson left in free agency, Alex Mack retired, and Mike McGlinchey’s status is up in the air as he looks to return from a torn quad tendon.

At first glance, this makes total sense. After all, a quarterback is only as good as the protection he receives from his offensive line.

Not so fast.

The level of success the 49ers have in 2022 will depend more on the play of Trey Lance.

When the quarterback position has been right, San Francisco has won a lot of games under Kyle Shanahan. In 2019 they reached the Super Bowl, and this last season the 49ers took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game.

In 2020, San Francisco dealt with several injuries, including having to go through the entire season with musical chairs at the center position and right guard due to Weston Richburg’s inability to return from injury.

Despite the injuries and the constant rotation at center and guard, San Francisco had a squad capable of reaching the playoffs.

What held them back was poor quarterback play.

The 49ers lost Jimmie Garoppolo for most of the season due to a high ankle sprain in the first half of a week two victory or the New York Jets.

Garoppolo’s injury resulted from a hit allowed not by the center or right guard; instead, it was Laken Tomlinson.

With Garoppolo on the sideline, San Francisco turned to Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard, who cost the 49ers at least four games due to their ineffectiveness.

In Mullens’ second start against Philadelphia, he missed wide-open receivers downfield early in the game and then sealed the defeat with an interception that was returned for a touchdown late.

Against Washington later in the season, a Mullens fumble late in the first half was returned for a 47-yard touchdown to give the Football Team the lead. On the final play of the third quarter, Mullens would have a throw to the outside intercepted and returned 74-yards to put the game out of reach.

It was more of the same the following week in Dallas, where a Mullens fumble on their second possession set Dallas up deep in 49ers territory, and two Mullens interceptions in the second half led to 10 points for the Cowboys. That’s 17 points off turnovers in a game San Francisco lost by eight.

After Mullens was injured late against Dallas, Beathard started the season’s final two games and turned in a stinker of his own in the finale against Seattle in a very winnable game for San Francisco.

In 2020, even with the issues up front, the 49ers allowed 39 quarterback sacks. Cincinnati just reached the Super Bowl last season despite giving up 55 sacks during the regular season, and Tennessee held the number one seed in the AFC while allowing 47.

San Francisco has one of the deepest rosters in the NFL.

Deebo Samuel is among the best wide receivers in the game, and George Kittle remains near the top of the league at tight end. Brandon Aiyuk and Lance connected on several deep throws during training camp last season and should work well together. Elijah Mitchell averaged 4.7 yards per rush attempt as a rookie. Don’t forget about Kyle Juszczyk. The do-everything fullback adds much-needed versatility with his ability to block or make big catches down the field.

On defense, the 49ers return Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Jimmie Ward, and nearly all the other starters who held opponents to the ninth fewest points in 2021.

Sure, Trey Lance has made only two NFL starts, but asking him to be better than Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard isn’t too much, is it?

This article has 21 Comments

  1. I don’t think it’s debatable that the QB position is the most important position in the NFL. Only with historically great defenses can a team win with a bad QB. A very strong roster can win with an average or above average QB which is what we saw the Rams do last year with Matt Stafford. A great QB can win games even with a bad roster. We’ve seen some of that with Russell Wilson over the past few years. It’s almost a given that you could say of every team in every year that they will only go as far as a QB will take them. That kind of overlooks that scenario where you have an averge/above avg QB on a team with a good roster. I’m putting Trey Lance in the Average/Above Avg group until he proves otherwise. In that scenario, then you have to look at the Roster and determine exactly how strong the roster is and where the weak points are in each position group. A first year starter needs to lean on his teammates until he develops and grows into a better player. A first year starter needs everyone around him to play well to achieve success. If a young QB can’t develop skills to read defenses because his interior O-line is constantly getting pushed back into his face then that growth will be stunted. Obviously, Trey Lance’s development hinges on the O-line giving him time to execute plays. If the O-line plays poorly then Trey Lance will not develop. So to me, the level of play of the O-line is more important than the level of play of Trey Lance in his first year starting as he can’t take the first step toward development if he has no time in the pocket.

    1. I’m sure it will take a little time for the OL to jell, which is often the case even when thee aren’t new players. I trust John/Kyle and I expect that the new guys will be at least adequate. To say that the interior OL is more important the QB is ridiculous. The QB is by far the most important player. This shouldn’t even be a discussion.

      1. A little reading comprehension is in order.

        His leading line clearly states the QB is the most important position in the NFL.

        His statement of the O-line is directed at their level of play affecting the success of a young QB that is still developing.

        I’m not sure how you read anything different; that the O-line is generally more of an important position than QB, in his statement.

        It’s great that you always trust every action (or inaction) from Shanny. I trust my dad too. Family should always stick up for one another. 👍🏽

        1. Oh please. I know what was said. I was reacting to his statement that the level of play of the OL was more important than the level of play of the QB. And yes, I trust the FO more than I trust you. In fact I don’t trust your opinion at all.

          1. But do you trust your dad?

            I’m quite saddened seeing your response because I have always placed your opinions at the pinnacle of sports analysis. 😭

      2. @Felix, like I said – QB is the most important position in the NFL. For next season, the performance of the interior O-Line will be more important to the ultimate success of the 49ers than will Trey Lance. If the O-line plays well then Trey Lance will be able to grow and develop. If the O-Line plays poorly in the run game and in pass pro then Trey will not have opportunities to develop and Kyle will be limited in his game plan options to help protect Trey with a run heavy game plan. I wouldn’t have this opinion in a normal year with a veteran roster. I do have this opinion in a year where you will have first time starters at RG, Center, and QB.

    2. 1,6
      * Not to disagree with your assessment of Lance and O-Line, but I would add this:
      * When Jack says, “the QB position is the most important position in the NFL,” he’s not wrong.
      * But what Jack fails to include is this…..KS and the 9ers will still be a run first offense, The 9er run game will shift from an outside zone to an inside zone.
      * Lance will operate from a shotgun, not from under center, as JG did.
      * If the IOL fails to open running lanes for the RB’s, the offensive becomes one dimensional and puts pressure on Lance and the WR’s to carry the game.
      * If the IOL fails to give lance the time to find his WR’s, Lance will be forced to run, opening him up to hits by the D and to injuries.
      * An injured Lance, obviously negates the whole rational for giving up three first rounds picks to draft Lance and replace an injury prone JG.
      * With the exception of TW, everyone on the O-Line has a question mark that must be answered by the end of the pre season. And the first pre season game against GB and A Rogers should tells us of they’re contenders, or PRETENDERS!

      1. I agree with pretty much everything you posted, Geep. You also bring up an interesting dynamic that I don’t think is getting enough attention. It appears the 49ers probably are moving from an outside zone to an inside zone run strategy considering the RBs they’ve stocked on the roster. Do the projected O-line starters fit an inside zone scheme? I thought one of the main reasons for drafting McGlinchey and Banks is because they are well suited for outside zone. I also think I read Brendel’s athleticism makes him a good fit in an outside zone. There really seem to be some conflict with the RBs who seem to be well suited for more of a power/inside zone run game vs the O-line who seem to be better suited for more of a speed/outside zone concept. Please correct me if I’m wrong but it really feels like a mismatched set of players in those 2 position groups. Obviously, Shanalynch are a lot smarter than me when it comes to football and they’ve proven they can build great rosters so they deserve the benefit of the doubt. But I just don’t get it.

        1. 1,6
          Aaron Banks is moving to LG, the position he played at ND and IMO should help him improve.
          Aaron Banks and the Notre Dame O-Line utilized a power blocking scheme. Jack has reported, Banks has spend time in the gym, lost 20 pounds and transformed his body…..Replacing fat with muscle.
          * NOTE: Inside Zone blocking schemes create flexibility against different fronts. The O-Line will use the alignment and leverage of the D against them. If the defender aligned on the inside shoulder (under), the offense will move them further inside, if the defender aligns on the outside shoulder (over), the O-Line will move them further out side. It’s up to the running back to be able to read and run off of that movement.
          Banks should be well suited to the inside zone! And yes, I believe that’s why the 9ers drafted Banks, RB’s Trey Sermon, Tyrion Davis-Price and Jordan Mason. (all 3 also played in a system with a shotgun QB).
          Jake Brendel is quick, light and agile. He’s able to get to the second level and outside, making him a good fit for the outside zone blocking. But he lacks the size and strength to control a bull rush from a D NT lined up directly in front of him. (He looks like he’s on roller skated)! His body is maxed out and if he adds mass, he loses speed and agility. IMO, that’s why he’s been cut by so many teams….So I question if he’s capable of giving Lance a clean pocket and the time needed to find his WR’s. The first pre season game against GB
          should be a litmus test for Brendel. If he struggles against GB, I wouldn’t be surprised if the 9ers signed FA Center, JC Tretter.
          Brunskill has a similar problem. He’s above average at run blocking, but his pass blocking against bigger DT’s is IMO lacking. He is however, better against lighter, quicker D lineman (like Aaron Donald).
          Mike McGlinchey is also average at pass blocking (his kick slide is slow because his foot movement is slow), but as you point out, his forte is run blocking. How well he recovers from his injury is TBD.
          * As I stated previously, except for TW, all of the O-Line players have questions that need to be answered before the first regular season game. How those questions are resolved, IMO, will determine the success of the 9ers 2022 season.

          NOTE:
          After watching tape on Spencer Burford, I believe a year with O-Line coach Chris Foerster and a year in the gym and he’ll replace Brunskill at RG. If RT McGlinchey doesn’t improve his pass blocking, Buford may replace him next season.

          1. All interesting stuff. Totally forgot Banks is moving to LG. Seems a bit counterintuitive but John Chapman did a breakdown of Banks college film. He said all the metrics from college showed Banks graded out very well on the outside zone runs. Not sure I buy it but that was the story. Also, interestingly Banks did not grade well on straight up run blocking. Even with his size he rarely gets any push. Seems very weird but that was the scouting report. Banks was supposedly a fit for outside zone but not great power blocking.

  2. No disputing the huge role Trey will play. He is a fast runner but what are his escapability skills given the porous OL. I guess we shall see soon enough.

    1. We’ll have to wait and see if the OL really is porous. Last year they ranked #3 but probably won’t rank that high this year. Hopefully he can make quick decisions so it won’t matter that much.

  3. Jack
    Something that hasn’t been addressed by any of the sports writers so far, including you, is the ST.
    * Gone is Hightower, who IMO was abysmal, replaced by Brian Schneider.
    * I expect the difference between the 9er 2021 ST and the 2022 ST, will be two W’s in the win column, VS two or three L’s in the 2021 Loss column

  4. Unaddressed is the quality, or possible lack of it, in our kicking game this year. I know it is too early to know but perhaps not too early to speculate. I believe this is Gould’s last year?

  5. All right, I’ll say it. The entire season rests on Wishnowsky’s foot. If he’s in the top 3 efficiency-wise, 9ers go 14 and 3 (or better); if he’s in the bottom 5, 9ers are 3 and 14 at best. Let’s go Mitch!

    Mostly joking, of course.

  6. You gotta love a sport whose Championship Trophy is named after the guy whose office was broken into and set off Watergate.

    And congratulations Warriors on winning that trophy! (on the 50 year anniversary of that break in no less)

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