Kyle Shanahan has yet to name a starter for the 49ers season opener against Detroit, when he does it should be Trey Lance.
Having watched a number of training camp practices and three preseason games it is clear that the San Francisco offense will perform at a higher level with Lance behind center.
You may ask how that can possibly be true. After all, Jimmy Garoppolo led the 49ers to a spot in the Super Bowl less than two years ago. The veteran wins games, appears to be the more polished quarterback when operating from the pocket, and his veteran teammates stand behind him.
All three of those are true. You can’t argue that the organization’s lack of success in the Shanahan era is the result of Garoppolo’s play. Shanahan has been able to win only 29 games through his first four seasons with the 49ers, 22 of those have come with Garoppolo at quarterback so he is clearly capable of successfully leading the team.
However, when you turn on the film of any Garoppolo start, it’s filled with more ups and downs than the rides at the amusement park that sits across the parking lot from Levi’s Stadium. Add Garoppolo’s inability to stay healthy and you realize why the 49ers front office decided to mortgage its future for a replacement.
Watching Lance through training camp practices and preseason games it was clear that his consistency in the passing game was about the same as Garoppolo’s.
Against the Chargers, Garoppolo would have a high throw bounce off the hands of receiver Brandon Aiyuk resulting in an interception. Lance would face a similar fate as inaccurate throws would end the next two 49ers possessions with the second also resulting in an interception. This carried over to the Raiders game as both quarterbacks would miss wide-open receivers, instead of throwing incomplete elsewhere.
That brings us to why Lance should be named the starter, the running game. Against the Raiders on Sunday, Shanahan finally took the wraps off the zone-read portion of the 49ers playbook. The running ability of Lance forces the defense to account for him at all times. The slight hesitation this creates for defenders gives the advantage to the blockers and runners, and this is the key differentiator between Lance and Garoppolo.
San Francisco’s offense is built to run the ball, a lot. The 49ers’ offensive linemen are all at their best when run blocking, George Kittle is the best blocking tight end in the league, the starting wide receivers are physical and versatile enough to run through the defense after taking a handoff while also being excellent blockers.
49ers general manager John Lynch was asked about the wide receiver group on Wednesday, “we can play a lot of different styles with this group,” Lynch said. “We can play bully ball and get after you, but these guys are also guys whose speed in there, there’s playmakers in there.”
In addition to the offense, the San Francisco defense appears to be capable of dominating opponents much like they did in 2019.
Shanahan would be playing to the strengths of his team by fully committing to a more run-heavy offense. Keeping the ball on the ground about sixty percent of the time would greatly speed up the pace of the game and also help the defense by keeping them well-rested between series.
This approach would be very familiar to Lance. During his time at North Dakota State, the Bison offense was geared towards running the ball which is a big reason why he averaged less than 20 throws per game in college.
The potential Lance possesses is clear, as is his ability to quickly make corrections during the heat of the game. While there will be some bumps in the road, we’ve seen plenty of those with Garoppolo as mentioned earlier, plus the rookie has already shown that he will continue to get better with experience.
Shanahan was asked repeatedly during training camp what it would take for Lance to become the starter and his response was consistent, Lance will start when he gives the 49ers the best chance of winning.
That time is now.
Jack Hammer is a lifelong 49ers fan who shares insights on the team and leads a discussion on all football and team topics. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackHammer_NFL and subscribe to his YouTube Channel, YouTube.com/c/JackHammer49.