49ers Offense Had ‘Almost Gotten Comical’ Before Major Change: Analyst

Trey Lance

Getty Trey Lance behind center during the Week 17 win over the Texans in the 2021 season.

Arguably, the worst kept secret in the NFL was finally confirmed on day one of San Francisco 49ers training camp.

“This is Trey’s team:” was blurted out by head coach Kyle Shanahan…finally confirming what 49er fans, NFL fans and media members who cover the league knew all along — Trey Lance is the starting quarterback over Jimmy Garoppolo in 2022.

But here’s what is also being discussed, particularly by Pro Football Focus: How Lance alone changes the dynamics of this offense that, as PFF analyst Mike Renner described it in his column on Wednesday, July 28, had “almost gotten comical” before Lance handles the reins full time.

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How 49ers Catered to Jimmy G

Fans know that the 49ers established themselves more as a run-first team with the intent to set up the play action.

But there’s a reason for that: To cater to Garoppolo…more so his strength of hitting underneath and intermediate throws.

“One of the league’s most dynamic receiving trios has been relegated to a bunch of one-cut underneath and intermediate routes. That’s because if there is one redeeming quality for Garoppolo, it’s that he can hit an in-breaker on time and in stride,” Renner wrote.

And then came Renner’s most blunt assessment of the 49ers‘ offense with Garoppolo’s arm part of the scheme.

“The offense has almost gotten comical under his (Garoppolo’s) command in how much it relies on such routes,” Renner said. “Over one-fourth of Garoppolo’s passing yards came on digs and slants last season. He went 65-of-100 when targeting such routes for 1,009 yards. That was over 100 more yards than any other quarterback in the NFL.”

Garoppolo did see career-highs playing for Shanahan. He produced his only 3,000-yard seasons in a 49ers uniform. He also will soon leave S.F. with a 33-14 career record as the ‘Niners continue to shop him around on the trade market.

Yet, Garoppolo still had his flaws on the field which ultimately were exposed in key games — notably the misfired deep ball late in Super Bowl 54 and his interceptions in critical moments, particularly late in contests versus the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Rams. Shanahan was only able to mask Jimmy G’s deficiencies for so long once teams took away the intermediate plays, including eliminating the in-breaker.

How Lance Changes the Offense, Including With Certain Formation Potentially Being Used More

Renner believes the “in-breakers” won’t be utilized much with Lance behind center — even noting how North Dakota State hardly ran those plays.

“For Lance, those figures were 3-of-11 for 67 yards (11.1% of his total passing yardage). Even dating back to Lance’s time at North Dakota State, in-breakers were not a part of his offense,” Renner explained. “He went 6-of-10 for 95 yards on slants and digs in his entire college career. Expecting him to have the same timing and rapport as someone who’s spent five years in Shanahan’s system would be asinine. If you’re looking at his biggest adjustment and area for improvement, that’s it.”

Lance adds another layer that Garoppolo couldn’t bring: Mobility. But it won’t be the first time a mobile QB has operated in a Shanahan-led offense.

“Shanahan does have an undeniable track record with mobile quarterbacks,” Renner said. “Back in 2012, his offense pioneered the pistol formation at the NFL level and Robert Griffin III broke records for him as a rookie. While Garoppolo didn’t take a snap in pistol last season, Lance took 23 such snaps. Expect that to be the norm in 2022.”

Finally, Renner shared this prediction…including a timetable of when Lance will surpass Garoppolo.

“It is important to remember, though, that Lance will improve. It’s impossible to expect someone with only 457 career dropbacks between college and pro football — about three-fourths of a season’s worth — to have figured out the NFL game. So while expectations out the gate should be tempered in the short term, it’d be shocking if Lance hasn’t surpassed Garoppolo by leaps and bounds by season’s end,” Renner said.

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