The 49ers remained in the playoff hunt with a win behind rookie quarterback Trey Lance. As the Niners trounced the Houston Texans without their starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo due to an injury, the third overall pick in the 2021 draft displayed his dynamic playstyle in the game.
The entire offense struggled in the first half, scoring just three points on the last drive of the half against an underwhelming Texans defense. The Niners’ offense didn’t look very impressive in the first half, as head coach Kyle Shanahan and his quarterback didn’t seem to mesh, and Lance’s interception led to a Texans touchdown drive.
Lance threw two touchdown passes in the closing 30 minutes of the game, the first to running back Elijah Mitchell from 8 yards out following a Texans quarterback Davis Mills interception. Lance was 16-of-23 for 249 yards and two touchdowns. The 49ers increased their lead to 17-7 with 9:56 to play when Lance found Deebo Samuel for a 45-yard bomb off of a play-action bootleg.
Although Lance’s rushing stats (eight carries for 31 yards) didn’t light up the box score, his ability to extend plays with his legs and make something happen is worth mentioning. In his late first-quarter completion to Brandon Aiyuk from his own end zone, Lance bought time in the pocket and connected with Aiyuk for a first down.
His performance is what makes him a great candidate to start against the Rams in the 49ers’ final regular-season game. It should apply regardless of the health of Jimmy Garoppolo, the de facto starting quarterback.
Trey. Deebo. 6️⃣. #FTTB
— NFL (@NFL) January 2, 2022
Lance or Garoppolo for Rams game
Earlier, after the win over Houston, Shanahan had said Garoppolo would return if he were “100 percent healthy and could do everything perfectly,” but he added that it would be challenging for the 49ers’ veteran quarterback to reach 100 percent.
Despite Garoppolo’s advantage in terms of experience, Lance possesses two things that Garoppolo lacks.
First, due to Lance’s stronger throwing arm, as compared to Garoppolo’s, he’ll be able to cover more ground with his passes. By comparing Lance’s Next Gen Stats passing chart from Sunday’s game with Garoppolo’s, one can see that Lance not only throws the ball deeper downfield but also utilizes space outside the numbers, something which Garoppolo struggles to accomplish.
In fact, Next Gen Stats reports that Lance averaged “the most air yards/attempt and threw the most yards on passes of 10+ air yards compared to any 49ers quarterback over the last three seasons.
Trey Lance brought a vertical element to the 49ers offense in his second career start.
Lance averaged the most air yards/attempt (11.5) and threw for the most yards on 10+ air yards passes (205) by any 49ers QB in a game over the last three seasons.#HOUvsSF | #FTTB pic.twitter.com/EBe38tvrUU
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 3, 2022
Second, Lance has also added an extension to his plays. While the rookie still has to figure out when to run with his legs and when to just buy time in the pocket, he displayed growth last Sunday with the mentioned pass to Aiyuk. He did not give up early, unlike what he did in his Week 5 start against the Arizona Cardinals. It takes time, and Lance is learning.
On the other hand, when receivers are covered, Garoppolo is also capable of creating something out of broken plays and buying time, but more often than not, these plays end in sacks, whereas Lance is able to escape and create plays because he is elusive.
Therefore, at his best, Lance is a better quarterback than Garoppolo at the moment because his skill set gives the offense the best chance to move out of the middle of the pack and become one of the NFL’s elite units.
No change in Shanahan's stance on Garoppolo/Lance/starting QB moving forward. He says Garoppolo is the obvious starter if fully healthy, but since he's not fully healthy he won't hesitate to go w/ Lance if needed. Shanahan adds Garoppolo won't need to be fully healthy to start
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) January 3, 2022