On today's Gold Standard podcast, Levin Black and I tried to predict the 49ers' top three rushers for the 2023 season. On the way, we stumbled into an interesting idea.
Should Kyle Shanahan go back to using the Trey Lance red zone package he employed in 2021?
It's a possibility worth talking about for multiple reasons. First and foremost, we have seen the 49ers struggle in that area under Kyle Shanahan. Save for 2021 when Deebo the running back entered the picture, Kyle's 49ers have been among the worst teams in red zone touchdown percentage. Say what you want about Trey Lance the full blown quarterback, but he was effective in the red zone role back in his rookie season. Look how easy this touchdown was against the Packers in Week 3.
The second reason to use Lance in that role is because it represents a reboot for him, and a return to his original development plan. Remember, Kyle Shanahan's original idea for Trey was to put him on the field with training wheels by only using him in red zone situations. That way, he could get his feet wet in the NFL and adjust to the speed of the game before eventually taking the reigns from Jimmy Garoppolo.
We all know by now how everything worked out. Lance has never gotten the experience the 49ers wanted him to accumulate. If he needed that soft landing in 2021, it stands to reason that he still needs it now after just eight starts in the league. If something did happen to Brock Purdy at any point in the season, presumably Trey would be that much better off if he had to assume starting responsibilities. Additionally, the Lance Package would allow the 49ers to extract some value out of a player they paid the iron price to acquire.
The 49ers locker room, however, remains the elephant in the room. The worst-kept 49ers secret is that a group of veteran players complained to Kyle Shanahan about the Lance Package shortly after that Packers game. The package, the players allegedly argued, undermined Jimmy Garoppolo's leadership of the team. It should be noted that this came after Garoppolo himself admitted to not liking the package following the Week 1 victory over the Lions that featured a Lance touchdown throw on the opening red zone possession of the year. During an interview on KNBR Garoppolo agreed with Mark Sanchez calling the situation "tough" and said, "I know the guys in the locker room, they know me, and I know where I stand with them...As long as those guys got my back I've got no problem doing whatever it takes to win." Lance didn't see the field at all the following week against the Eagles, played a single snap against the Packers that resulted in a touchdown, and then never appeared in that fashion again the rest of the season.
Would the locker room spring to Brock Purdy's defense the same way they did Jimmy G. in 2021? Brock has certainly earned love from his teammates, even in the short time he was on the field last year. His situation is similar to Garoppolo in that both players were seen to have rescued the team from disaster. Garoppolo won five straight games for a team that was 1-10 at the time, and Purdy pulled the season back from the brink of the abyss of losing two starting quarterbacks.
There's no way to know for sure how they'd react until it happens, but Shanahan does have a card to play this season that wasn't available to him in 2021. The time card. The clock is ticking on this team's Super Bowl window, and they're getting further away from that championship. They were minutes away in 2019. They were a quarter away from a return to the Super Bowl in 2021. They were a game away in 2022. At this point Shanahan could argue that 2023 is an all-hands-on-deck situation, and he should.
Whether he actually does remains to be seen.
If you want to check out the entire podcast, you can download it here or watch below.
- Has Kyle Shanahan taken this team as far as it can go? (:57)
- Who will the top 3 leaders in rush yards be this season? (5:48)
- Could we see a return of the 2 QB system this year? (14:49)
- Who will the top 3 leaders in receiving yards be this season? (17:04)
- Who will the top 3 sack leaders be this season? (31:42)
- If you could get one fully healthy season from either CMC or the QB, who would you pick? (41:42)
- Don't sleep on Kirk Cousins to the 49ers in 2024 (43:28)