Kyle Shanahan Immediately Under Fire for Trey Lance ‘Malpractice’ Injury

Trey Lance and Kyle Shanahan

Getty Kyle Shanahan has been blamed for Trey Lance's injury.

It didn’t take long for San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to be blamed for Trey Lance’s injury during Week 2’s 27-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Lance was carted off the field after being hit by two defenders, including linebacker Cody Barton, in the first quarter.

Afterwards, Shanahan confirmed Lance suffered a broken ankle, but the coach admitted he didn’t have much “time to think about the injury or the call that preceded it, per Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury:

Things went wrong at the end of a designed run called by Shanahan to take advantage of his starting quarterback’s rushing skills.

Those same skills naturally expose Lance to more hits, prompting several observers to deem Shanahan culpable for designing a play that only increased the chances of the second-year pro getting hurt.

Many Quick to Blame Shanahan’s Play-Calling

Lance’s fateful play was an inside power run that put the quarterback in the thick of the meat grinder between the numbers. It’s something Grant Cohn of All49ers on FanNation didn’t like to see because of how it made Lance resemble another position:

The accusation Shanahan turned his QB1 into a glorified fullback was echoed by Damon Bruce of 95.7 The Game. He believes Shanahan mistreated and misused the player the Niners traded three first-round picks to draft third overall in 2021:

It’s obvious Shanahan took a risk with the signal-caller he promoted ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason, but that’s not the whole story. Lance is no fullback, but he’s also a 6’4″, 224-pounder who became a star at North Dakota State by making plays with his legs.

Shanahan and the coaching staff couldn’t simply ignore what Lance can do on the move because they didn’t want to risk injury. The bigger issue is whether Shanahan overdid the option to deploy Lance as a runner.

Bruce’s 95.7 The Game colleague Sterling Bennett thinks the 49ers tempted fate too often with all of the designed runs:

The same sense of exasperation at the deliberate strategy to run Lance was expressed by Steve Berman of The Athletic:

It’s not an unreasonable argument, even though Lance’s injury was an unfortunate outcome that can happen from most collisions in football. The problem was Lance’s status as the starter.

Other teams let quarterbacks attack defenses on designed runs. The New Orleans Saints regularly call Taysom Hill’s number on those plays, but he’s not the team’s primary passer. That job belongs to Jameis Winston.

Shanahan took a bigger gamble with the player handed the reins to the overall offense this year. The coach even knew he was taking a risk, based on his comments after Week 1.

Shanahan Was Open About Lance Running Plan

Lance’s mobility gave defenses one more problem to solve and added another layer to the read option-style schemes Shanahan likes to call. It’s not as if Lance running hadn’t already proved an effective ploy for the 49ers’ offense.

He gained 54 yards on 13 attempts against the Chicago Bears. The performance convinced Shanahan he should continue to let Lance run. That’s what he told Greg Papa’s 49ers Gameplan, per NBC Sports Bay Area’s Jarrod Castillo: “That’s his advantage, that’s what he’s got to keep. I mean, that’s what gives him an advantage in this league when you are a threat to run even though you don’t have to do it every time. It can make things easier on him.”

Shanahan stayed true to his word by calling runs for his quarterback even after Garoppolo had entered the game in place of Lance. Two designed runs by last season’s veteran starter were highlighted by David Lombardi of The Athletic in the final period:

It doesn’t look like Shanahan will back off using his QB as a runner. While it’s easy to criticise Shanahan after the fact, he was tasked with getting Lance up to speed quickly and still winning games with a loaded roster.

Having Lance run only increased his chances of doing both, according to Akash Anavarathan of SB Nation’s Niners Nation:

There’s merit to the argument, but Shanahan also needed to develop Lance as a passer. That process would have run smoother without Lance being used as a feature of the ground game, per the Sacramento Bee‘s Chris Biderman:

Instant reactions won’t be kind to Shanahan, especially if Lance is out long term. Yet, it’s also fair to say not many coaches around the NFL would have kept an athlete as gifted as Lance static in the pocket.

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