Kyle Shanahan Defends Trey Lance Strategy: ‘Buffalo Does It’

Josh Allen vs. 49ers

Getty Kyle Shanahan has defended the 49ers' strategy for Trey Lance by making a comparison with the Bills.

Kyle Shanahan isn’t about to blame his fondness for calling designed quarterback runs as the cause of Trey Lance’s injury. The San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback left the field with a broken ankle during the first quarter of Week 2’s 27-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

Lance is likely to miss the rest of the season after surgery, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and Shanahan’s play-calling has come in for criticism. It’s only natural since Lance was injured on a designed running play.

Shanahan was besieged with questions about the wisdom of running his QB1 between the tackles. The questions obviously irked the head coach, who defended his strategy by making a comparison with the Buffalo Bills and their starter Josh Allen.


Shanahan Accepted the Risk of Lance Strategy

After defending the fateful play involving Lance as “something we were going to do and something we could continue to do,” Shanahan reminded reporters “Buffalo does it all the time with their quarterback,” per Tim Kawakami of The Athletic:

A show of defiance is unlikely to find favor with those who believe Shanahan deserves the blame for Lance’s injury. Yet, the play-caller has a point when he uses the Bills as an example.

Allen is noted for his dual-threat skills. Specifically, for his ability to run power plays from the quarterback position, something detailed by ESPN’s Matt Bowen:

The Bills don’t mind running Allen even though he’s a Pro Bowl-level starter essential to Buffalo’s chances of winning a Super Bowl. Taking the risk of running Allen is deemed worth it because of how the 6’5″, 237-pound signal-caller can overwhelm defenses on inside runs.

That’s what Allen did in Week 1 by running 10 times for 56 yards and a touchdown when the Bills beat up the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. Those yards offered a reminder of how a QB-centric rushing scheme can work and why it’s worth the risk.

Yet, the risk can be managed and even mitigated by selective use of a rushing quarterback. It’s not something the 49ers achieved with Lance, despite Shanahan’s defiant words.


Shanahan Overdid Inside Runs for Lance

Numbers show Lance was overworked as a runner. Statistics from Sterling Bennett of 95.7 The Game show how Lance ran the ball almost as many times as Allen in 2021, despite playing just a fraction of the total snaps:

It’s hard to reconcile those numbers with the notion Lance’s injury was just one of those things that can happen when playing football. The tricky thing for the 49ers has been finding the balance between turning Lance’s athleticism loose on the ground while protecting the future of the franchise.

Shanahan was primarily responsible for shepherding Lance’s development, but it was never going to be an easy balancing act. Not when Lance needed to refine his game as a passer, while the 49ers were still expected to win while he found his way.

The quickest route to winning early with Lance was always going to involve incorporating his mobility into the offense. It might’ve worked had Shanahan been able to run his QB off tackle more often, but as Kawakami pointed out, the plays were designed to send Lance through the interior:

Ultimately, Shanahan did put Lance at risk with his play calling, but only because the coach was trying to get the most out of the specific talent at his disposal. The bigger issue is whether Shanahan and general manager John Lynch gave away too much for a quarterback with so many question marks when they traded three first-round picks to draft Lance third overall in 2021.

Sadly, there’s no way to answer that question until Lance gets on the field for a prolonged period of time and proves himself one way or another. It’s a process that’s been kicked down the road by this injury, once again leaving the 49ers in long-term limbo at football’s most important position.

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