Where Trey Lance will impact the 49ers offense

When the 49ers used three first-round picks to acquire Trey Lance in the 2021 draft, it was assumed his most significant contribution would come from his right arm.

While Lance will likely make explosive plays through the air, that’s not where his greatest impact on the 49ers offense will be felt.

San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan’s most successful seasons have featured a common theme, running the ball often.

With Atlanta in 2016 and San Francisco in 2019 and 2021, Shanahan’s offenses were near the bottom of the league in pass attempts. Two of those teams reached the Super Bowl, and the third took a ten point lead into the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship game before falling short.

Shanahan’s first trip to the playoffs came in 2012 as the offensive coordinator in Washington. It doesn’t take much to see the similarities between that 2012 squad and the 2022 49ers.

Led by a mobile rookie quarterback, Washington ran the ball 519 times, third most in the NFL.

In the two games started by Trey Lance last season, the 49ers ran the ball 54% of the time, nearly identical to that 2012 Washington team.

This brings us to the biggest impact Trey Lance can have on San Francisco’s offense in 2022.

In Lance’s two starts, at Arizona and home against Houston, the 49ers averaged just over five yards per rush attempt. In the other 15 games, San Francisco averaged only 4.2 yards per attempt on the ground.

Much like Deebo Samuel, Lance creates conflict for opposing defenses.

The threat of Lance in the run game forces defenders to keep their eyes on him a beat longer than quarterbacks who are not a running threat. That split second gives the offensive line a head start to engage their blocks and for the running back to get up the field.

A previous 49ers head coach talked about wanting his team to be “physical with an F.” Kyle Shanahan and Trey Lance are successfully bringing this vision to life.

This article has 18 Comments

  1. Nice read, Jack.
    For Shanahan to give up so much for Lance, he had to see something about Trey that he really liked. My one guess would be Trey’ running ability.

    As a passer, I believe that Jimmy is better than Lance right now. Jimmy however, couldn’t move that well in the pocket and did not provide a threat when leaving the pocket.
    Shanahan could live with Trey’ moments of inaccuracy in the passing game as long as Lance can make something positive with his legs.

    In time Lance will garner the nuances of the game which will make him much more dangerous, but that may not happen until the mid-way point of the season.

    Btw, I loved the (F)hysical teams of the Harbaugh era. But they seemed to lack the speed element. His Michigan teams have also been physical, but have been short on speed.
    Shanahan is trying to find a better balance with the edition of players like Eli Mitchell, Danny Gray and now Trey.
    I’m anxious to see how it all comes together this year.

  2. “With Atlanta in 2016 and San Francisco in 2019 and 2021, Shanahan’s offenses were near the bottom of the league in pass attempts. ”

    True , but in the Falcons Superbowl Season Matt Ryan had his best statistical season and won the MVP. Successful running game compliments passing game – play action and Jack’s point about LBs keeping eye on Lance.

  3. So far what Lance has shown me is he is very good at avoiding pressure in the pocket. He is tough to sack (other than those plays where the O line completely falls apart.) He hasn’t impressed me on scrambles after he crosses the line of scrimmage or on called runs. I was expecting some big plays with his legs like K. Murray and R. Wilson have pulled off against the 9ers. I hope he starts showing big plays with his feet this Sun, just hope he slides or gets out of bounds.

    1. I am actually very pleased that Lance is not taking off with his legs. To me, he’s playing within Kyle’s scheme and picking up the available yards on designed runs. On broken plays when the pocket collapses he’s looking to pass rather than run. On their long runs, the Murrays and Jacksons (and the younger version of Wilson) have already made the decision to run well before crossing the LoS and have gained speed. Lance, OTOH, seems to be looking to pass till he is almost across the LoS. A good sign for an inexperienced QB who’s still very much adjusting to the speed of the NFL game.

      Steve Young definitely approves of this approach considering his view of the elite, dual threat QB as he laid out in the Athletic article this week.
      “To be a really great pro quarterback, ‘dual threat’ is being a sophisticated thrower of the football who can run,” Young said in a phone interview this week. “And so, in that way, I do relate with Trey, in trying to figure out how to manage the athleticism and develop into a sophisticated passer who can run.”

  4. OC, you make some good points and i agree. One thing that stood out to me in his ” bad” preseason game against the texans….is how effortlessly he constantly escaped pressure ……and the fact that he completed 7-11 pass attempts.
    For , what most say, was such a poor performance……he did ok. The timing still not perfect ……but i think it will get there.
    Watching guys like Young and Garcia…..the best Qb runs usually happen on a broken pass play! no one open….so qb pulls it down and takes off for 20-30. Although there was a guy in these parts that could hit you for 70 on designed runs too……but i think defenses were EXPECTING that from Lance last year. I cant wait to see what he can do in a full season…..as opposed to a game or 2 when defenses are focused on stoping Lance the runner.

  5. A very long time ago Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines starred in a movie called “Running Scared.” I’m glad Trey Lance is mobile because behind this offensive line the 49ers are remaking “Running Scared” and Trey Lance is the star of the movie.

    1. OC – I think of Jim Everett no matter who our QB is because Jim Everett was guilty of “Passing scared”. It got so bad he literally dropped back to pass and then sat down. I’m not worried about Trey “Running scared”. I’m worried about him ending up like Everett.

      1. Lance is going to need every extra second he can get behind a very unproven oline. I don’t think because Lance is perceived as a runner it will change much. The reason 49er brass like TL is because of his demeanor and he is “wise beyond his years”. After about a month in a half from now we will have some idea of what we have. Defenses will have had the chance to game plan so on and so forth. TL percentage win loss record will tell us a lot about Trey Lance.

    1. Great memories. Fantastic runs by Roger Craig & Garrison Hearst with terrific offensive line play. Those were the days.

    2. Thanks GN,
      Happy to say that I watched them all in real-time.
      Most of those memories were at Candlestick Park, the venue where so many 49ers greats played.

      One of my all-time favorites was the Lonn Simmons call on Steve Young’ touchdown run against the Vikings. “He breaks away, he breaks away again!” Classic.
      Too bad the old Burger King
      commercial turned it into an advertising gimmick.

      But, I’m blessed to have witnessed greatness on those glory days teams.

      1. Hah! I had forgotten about the Burger King ad. That was my favorite highlight in the reel. Obviously not as important as The Catch, but just watching Young dodge 8 defenders on his way to the end zone… I don’t know if there are too many highlights in the entire NFL history that top that effort.

  6. Heard Kittle is now a question mark for Sunday with a groin problem. I don’t think you miss his pass catching ability because, frankly, Shanahan decided to pay him $15M/year to become a second right tackle. But it does hurt you in the run game and in pass blocking, to say the least.

    Also, Kittle’s constant injuries are a bit worrisome. He may need to learn how to avoid injury for long term success. I know he only goes in one gear, but your greatest asset sometimes is availability.

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