Thursday, December 7

Will Trey Lance play against the Packers in the NFL playoffs? The 49ers would be smart if they used rookie QB

Jimmy Garoppolo has two injuries affecting his throwing hand and arm (right thumb, right shoulder), but he’s ready to start over at quarterback for the 49ers in Saturday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the Packers ( 8:15 p.m. ET, Fox). That doesn’t mean the Niners should sit entirely on rookie QB Trey Lance’s first round.

Lance made two starts replacing Garoppolo in the regular season, well spaced in Weeks 5 and 17. Unsurprisingly, he had mixed results, struggling against the Cardinals and lighting up the Texans. Prior to that, Lance had significant pass-and-run action at home against the Seahawks in Week 4.

He also made a brief appearance in a 30-28 home shootout loss to the Packers in Week 3. Lance had a rushing attempt and converted it into a 1-yard touchdown run.

Coach Kyle Shanahan and offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel didn’t design special packages for Lance based on that, instead sticking with Garoppolo getting the snaps in a scheme where the quarterback still passes first, playing the running game. traditional. The 49ers are still using the opportunity for wide receiver Deebo Samuel as a change-of-pace running back, but they haven’t needed Lance as much to move the ball or score, while Garoppolo has been healthy, having won seven of their last nine games. .

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Lance is a dynamic running back while still developing as a green passer at just 21 years old. In his most played games as a rookie, he combined for 164 rushing yards on 31 carries. That’s 5.3 yards per attempt.

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The Packers gave up 456 rushing yards to quarterbacks in the 2021 season, second only to Washington. QBs averaged 5.9 yards per attempt against them. The biggest producers were fellow rookie Justin Fields (twice), Tyler Huntley and Taylor Heinicke. Garoppolo had three rushing touchdowns but had only 51 rushing yards on 38 attempts in 15 games for 1.3 yards per carry.

Green Bay ranked 12th in rushing defense in terms of yards allowed per game (109.1), but was 30th, ahead only of Kansas City and Pittsburgh, in terms of yards allowed per carry (4.7). San Francisco was the No. 6 rushing offense, averaging 127.4 yards per game. He was also tied for fifth with an average of 29 career attempts per game.

Shanahan will stay committed to the run unless his team is trailing by three possessions late in the second half. Rookie Elijah Mitchell has seen more than 20 carries in five straight starts. He wasn’t healthy for the Packers’ first meeting.

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Attacking the Packers on the ground is the best strategy. It’s his defensive weakness and the 49ers’ offensive strength. It can also come with the added benefits of ball control and time of possession, limiting how much Aaron Rodgers touches the ball and protecting the Niners’ defense.

Mitchell has been effective with volume. In seven of his 11 games he had 90 or more rushing yards. His last big game was Week 17 against the Texans, which Lance started.

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The 49ers tend to have a favorite running back and that’s Mitchell. Lance would be his way of incorporating a new change of pace through a unique committee in certain situations. It would make more sense to reintroduce the wrinkle in the red zone, where it’s imperative that the 49ers finish long touchdown drives with Rodgers on the other side.

Lance, despite his strong second half in Week 17, didn’t see action in the must-win Week 18 game at the Rams or the wild-card playoff at the Cowboys. Shanahan may remain reluctant to use two quarterbacks, but the 49ers must also consider surprise elements to win as underdogs. Just Lance’s presence on a few plays could open up big plays elsewhere.

Shanahan hasn’t been afraid to experiment, as Samuel as a running back is a resounding success. One shouldn’t be surprised if he makes Lance a factor against the Packers.

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