04 Jan Rust Was to Be Expected on Trey Day, but Here’s Something That Caught Me by Surprise
I said repeatedly, leading up to Trey Lance’s second ever NFL start vs the Houston Texans, that I would expect even a seasoned QB to be rusty after sitting for 12 weeks. For a raw rookie, in only his third game since 2019, that rust was a near certainty. When the game began, it was clear that Lance was indeed rusty, but what I didn’t expect was that Kyle Shanahan would be rusty too, as he hadn’t called plays for Lance in a live game for over 12 weeks too. The gameplan was vanilla, with too many RB & QB runs. The Texans knew what to expect & they stacked the box with 8 & sometimes 9 defenders. Nothing seemed to work for the 49ers’ offense, until after the Texans scored the first TD of the game, with just under 1 minute to go in the second quarter.
When the 49ers got the ball back on their final possession of the first half, they only had 0:38 seconds to work with. Lance & Shanahan certainly had their work cut out for them if they wanted to trim the Texans’ lead, before halftime. On 1st down, Lance hit Deebo Samuel, on a pass to the right for a 17-yard gain. The next throw fell incomplete. On 2nd & 10 Lance hit Brandon Aiyuk on a pass to the right, for a 27-yard gain down to the Texans’ 26-yard line, with 14 seconds remaining. The next pass fell incomplete, then on 2nd & 10, the 49ers were flagged for a false start. On 2nd & 15 from the Texans’ 31-yard line, Lance hit Aiyuk again on pass to the right for 12-yard gain to the Texans’ 19-yard line. The pass was tipped by a Texans’ DB, but somehow Aiyuk managed to catch it & keep both of his feet inbounds. Gould then went out and made a 37-yard FG, with just :03 seconds to spare. Most of the first half had been a failure, including Lance throwing his second career INT, but this drive gave fans hope. – especially since the 49ers were set to receive the kickoff to begin the 2nd half. The score going into halftime was 7-3, Texans up.
On the first drive of the second half, Lance hit Aiyuk, who made the catch and then had a massive run up the middle for 43 yards, down to the Texans’ 33-yard line. All of a sudden, the offense was clicking! The 49ers offense got down to the Texans’ 24-yard line, where they then faced 4th & 1. Shanahan decided to go for it & called a passing play. Unfortunately, Lance’s attempted pass to Aiyuk was defended well & broken up. I would’ve opted to kick a FG instead, hoping to cut the lead to only 1 point, especially in a close, low-scoring game.
The Texans began on their own 24-yard line & took the ball to midfield, where 49ers’ LB Marcell Harris intercepted a pass from Davis Mills. Harris fumbled the ball shortly after intercepting it & the Texans recovered the fumble. It looked as if a huge break had been squandered by Harris trying to get extra return yards. Luckily, the referees had whistled the play dead, and ruled Harris’ forward progress had been stopped prior to the ball coming loose. What a break!
The 49ers then took over on their own 45-yard line, after the sudden change of possession. Lots of coaches like to go for big plays in that situation & Shanahan wasted no time dialing up a deep shot down the middle to Aiyuk. The pass fell incomplete, but Aiyuk was grabbed by one the Texans’ DBs to earn a huge 37-yard DPI call. Going deep had paid off, even though the catch wasn’t made. Usually this season, the 49ers have only been hurt by penalties on deep throws. Lance’s cannon of an arm was paying dividends – especially for Aiyuk!
The 49ers now had the ball on the Texans’ 21-yard line. Mitchell ran right for 6 yards, then left for 1 yard, then Hasty caught a clutch 6-yard pass on 3rd & 4 to take the 49ers down to the Texans’ 8-yard line, On 1st & goal, Lance hit Mitchell on a 8-yard pass to the right flat for a TD. Juice had gone from the right to left & Mitchell went from left to right, and the defender who should’ve covered Mitchell went with Juice. This allowed Mitchell to walk into the end zone untouched! The 49ers took their first lead of the day, with a score of 10-7, with 5:47 left in the 3rd quarter. Would the 49ers be able to keep their lead, or even add to it?
After a Texans’ three-and-out, the 49ers began on their own 28-yard line. Unfortunately, Samuel had a huge drop that killed the drive. While he’s had an incredibly productive season (1,310 receiving yards, 6 receiving TDs, 320 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs = 1,630 yards & 13 TDs in total), he also leads the league in drops, with 10. The 49ers had to punt.
The Texans took over on their 10-yard line, with 1:35 left in the 3rd quarter. They drove all the way to the 49ers’ 17-yard line. I was officially worried that the Texans were going to re-take the lead. Then, 49ers’ nickel CB K’Waun Williams stuffed Rex Burkhead for a 1-yard loss. On 3rd & 3, Arden Key sacked Davis Mills for 9-yard loss, back to the 27-yard line, which forced the Texans to attempt a FG. Ka’imi Fairbairn then missed a 45-yard FG, that would’ve tied the game. TD & FG bullets both dodged!
The 49ers then took over on their own 35-yard line, with 12:04 left in the game. Mitchell ran for 6 up the middle, for 1 to the right & then Lance hit Jennings, on a pass to the left, for 14 yards. The 49ers were then down to the Texans’ 45-yard line. Lance lined up under center & faked a handoff on a bootleg, as he rolled to way out to his right. He stopped & launched a laser beam, across his body, all the way to the left, where Deebo Samuel was in between the deep & intermediate coverages. Deebo made the catch at the 10-yard line, shed a defender & then walked into the end zone for the 49ers’ second TD of the game! The 49ers now had a lead of 17-7, with 9:45 left in the game.
Notice how Deebo was pointing to his wrist afterward? He’s saying that its Trey Time! Elijah Mitchell did the same thing after his TD reception from Lance.
The Texans began on their 30-yard line & moved the ball all the way down to the 49ers’ 41, but had to punt. The ball was almost downed inside the 5-yard line, but it went into the end zone for a touchback.
The 49ers started on their own 20-yard line, with 6:46 left in the game. On 3rd & 12, Kittle caught an amazing one-handed 29-yard catch down the middle, despite the Texans’ DB committing DPI! Then, Mitchell peeled off a whopping 37-yard run to the left, down to the Texans 6-yard line! The 49ers were rolling! Shanahan called QB power & Lance took it straight into the end zone, but Aiyuk was flagged for holding, so the TD was called back. Despite multiple efforts, the 49ers were stymied and ended up with a 27-yard FG. They now had a 20-7 lead with 3:23 left in the game.
The Texans started on their own 19-yard line, but could not move the ball 10 yards and turned the ball over on downs after an incomplete pass on 4th down.
The 49ers burned some clock & then kicked a 36-yard FG. They now had a 23-7 lead, with 1:06 left in the game.
The Texans tried to get some points one last time, but failed.
- Lance, Mitchell, Aiyuk, Deebo & the 49ers’ defense were the stars of the day
- The defense recorded 3 sacks & held the Texans’ offense to a stingy 3.6 yards per play
- Mitchell had 21 carries for 118 yards (5.7 yards per carry) + 2 catches for 11 yards & a TD = a combined total of 129 yards & a TD
- Deebo had 3 catches on 6 targets for 63 yards (21 yards per catch) & a TD + 7 carries for 19 yards = a combined total of 83 yards & a TD
- Aiyuk had 4 catches, on 6 targets, for 93 yards (23.5 yards per catch) + the 37 yard DPI = a combined total of 130 yards of production. Additionally, Aiyuk should gotten a 2nd DPI call on this play:
Trey Lance’s actual production was very close to my prediction:
As I had predicted, Lance’s ability to run, throw deep & outside the numbers opened up the entire field for 49ers’ RBs & receivers. Here is throwing chart comparison, showing Jimmy Garoppolo at the Titans vs Trey Day vs the Texans. There were barely any throws behind the line of scrimmage.
Sunday was a big win, but to ensure a playoff spot, the 49ers now must beat the Rams, who are currently favored by 5.0 points, in LA this Sunday. The 49ers can still make the playoffs if they lose, but that would require the Atlanta Falcons to beat the New Orleans Saints, which is unlikely, as the Saints are currently favored by 4.5 points as well. Even though neither is favored to happen, the 49ers only need one to happen, so their odds of making the playoffs are still favorable at 61%.
After the game, Shanahan said that Jimmy Garoppolo will only play if his thumb is 100%, and if he ‘could do everything perfectly.’ I’d say that the odds of that are about 0%. A grade 3 tear of the UCL usually takes 4-6 weeks to heal. Sunday will be just 2.5 weeks since he injured it, and it’s supposed to require surgery after the season ends as well. Some people want Jimmy Garoppolo to play vs the Rams, even if he’s not 100%, because he’s undefeated in the 5 games he’s started against them. Lets take a look at some context, behind those wins.
In 2017, the Rams rested their starters, in a meaningless final game of the season = win #1. In 2019, The 49ers had the #2 overall defense & the #2 running game for wins 2 & 3. In 2020, Garoppolo had his best game of the season vs the Rams, while playing on only one good ankle (this was his most legit win & still, he barely threw the ball past the line of scrimmage, which may not be doable again) = win #4. In 2021, Garoppolo no longer had Jared Goff to beat up on and compare to across the field. He still played pretty well, but the real star was the other Jimmie (Ward) who had an interception & later a pick-six. The run game got an honorable mention, with 44 rushes tallied. Garoppolo did well, but was far from the biggest reason the 49ers won, I’d say at least 3rd on the list, at best.
So is Jimmy Garoppolo the best option at QB, even in the unlikely event that his thumb is 100%? To me the answer is a resounding NO. Lance is already making throws and scrambles that Jimmy can only dream of. Despite both Shanahan & Lance being rusty for almost the entire first half, Lance did better than Garoppolo’s season average on Sunday. I did my own comparison of Trey Day vs the Texans & Jimmy G for the 2021 season:
My point is not to take anything away from Jimmy Garoppolo, as he will likely leave the 49ers without ever losing to the Rams, and that most certainly deserves some respect and recognition. However, I just wanted to stress that the 49ers won with him under center, not because he was under center. I’ve also seen Shanahan win beat the Rams with Nick Mullens slinging the rock. I have faith in the 49ers to get the job done next week, even with the rookie Trey Lance.
Lance & Shanahan will improve quickly, as they get more comfortable with one another. Jimmy Garoppolo simply will not. If anything, he is regressing. We should play the QB who is going to stay, not the QB who is about to fly away. I believe Garoppolo would not take the 49ers far, even if they made the playoffs. However all of this is still a moot point, as it is incredibly hard to imagine Garoppolo suddenly being healthy enough to play at a level high enough to get the start on Sunday. Lance just might be the missing piece for the 49ers. Plus, the experience in the playoff atmosphere this Sunday at SoFi Stadium will be invaluable for his development for the 2022 season, regardless of the outcome of the game.
Please keep an eye out for my in-depth preview of the Rams game, which should drop this Thursday (or Friday) morning! Thank you for sticking around for the lengthy read!