Shanahan Winning the QB Game


By Lenn Robbins

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan must crack a smile in his free time. The noise around the 49ers clamors for rookie quarterback Trey Lance to unseat Jimmy Garoppolo. Lance had a solid preseason, completing13-of-28 for 230 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and one rush for eight yards. He shows dazzling athleticism, but that’s window dressing.

All Shanahan needs to stay the course is to look at the other members of this ballyhooed rookie quarterback and rest assured that so far, he’s made the right call.

After three weeks, this class is 1-9 as starters and have thrown 18 interceptions and nine touchdowns. Add Lance, who is pushing Jimmy G for the starting job in San Francisco, and the numbers are 18 and 10.

The 49ers (Lance) at 2-1 are the only team that used a 1st-round draft choice on a QB with a winning record. The Jaguars are 0-3 and No.1 pick Trevor Lawrence has thrown five TDs and seven picks. The Jets are 0-3 and No. 2 pick Zach Wilson has thrown two TDS, seven picks. The 49ers are 2-1 and No. 3 Lance and has thrown one TD and zero picks.  The Bears are 1-2 and No.11 pick Justin Fields has thrown zero TDs and one pick. The Pats are 1-2 and No. 15 Mac Jones has thrown two touchdowns and three picks.

It’s Lawrence and Fields whose early play bears the most attention. Wilson progressed at BYU before turning in a dazzling senior season. He didn’t arrive on campus and light it up, so there should not have been any expectation that he would burst upon the NFL scene and shred defenses. Lance’s junior year was lost to COVID-19. He played once game in October at FCS North Dakota State. Can anyone name the last QB who went from the FCS level to the NFL, missed an entire season, and dazzled as a rookie? Didn’t think so.

Lawrence lost two regular season games at any level before losing his first three NFL starts. He is considered the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck, who was drafted in 2012. Lawrence threw 17 interceptions in 40 college games. He’s thrown seven in three pro games. Welcome to the NFL.

Fields had a 178.8 rating in 33 college games. In his first pro start against the Browns last week Fields completed 6-of-20 passes for a mere 68 yards. His rating was 41.3. He was sacked nine times. Imagine how he felt Monday morning.

Lance has attempted one pass, which he completed for five yards. He has one rushing touchdown. He is not going anywhere soon.

“Trey’s our backup quarterback,” Shanahan said this week. “This isn’t the preseason. We’re not just going back and forth all the time. Trey goes in for specific plays or things we want to do.”

Shanahan gets it. The starting quarter controversy is always a headline grabber. Garoppolo struggled with injuries the last two seasons but when healthy he’s been an efficient QB, having thrown 55 touchdowns and 27 interceptions. But the 49ers traded three first-round picks to take Lance with the third in the draft. Moves like that aren’t for a non-impact player.

The question is, when does Shanahan believe Lance is ready to be a positive impact player instead of a negative one?

“A lot of words that have been put in my mouth, about some of that stuff, are exaggerated, pretty big,” Shanahan said. “I keep it pretty real with everyone. But I just don’t tell everyone the answer. I have no problem with you guys overdoing that (two-quarterback storyline) and Detroit working on that extra hard. I’ve been pretty consistent with what I said.”

BENGALS -7.5 over Jaguars – This is more an utter lack of faith in the Jags than an endorsement of Cincy, BUT the striped cats are improving and Burrow is one of the good, young QB’s in the league.

Titans -7.5 over JETS – How long can the Jets’ staunch defense hold up against the relentless battering of Dexter Designator Hitter Henry? Until late in the third quarter when he breaks Gang Green’s spirit. BUT, the Jets will score.

Chiefs +6.5 over EAGLES – This is much more of an indictment of the Eagles, who are really bad, as it is an endorsement of the Chiefs, who suddenly are in critical care. KC has problems BUT the Eagles issues.

Panthers +4.5 over COWBOYS – The Cowboys might, repeat might, be one of the more talented teams coach by a man who might, repeat, might be the worst clock manager if not coach in the NFL. BUT Dak Prescott disguises a lot of flaws.

+SAINTS -7.5 over Giants – The loss of linebacker Blake Martinez is a real blow for the Giants. Big Blue has issues, which are worse than problems, i.e.: Do they have the right QB, GM and coach? The Saints have all.  

Lions +3.5 at Bears – Matt Nagy is doomed either way: If he commits to Justin Fields, as he should, the Bears almost certainly won’t make the playoffs and Nagy is gone. If he goes with stopgaps Nick Folds and Andy Dalton, the Bears might make the playoffs, lose in the first round, and Nagy is gone.

BILLS -16.5 over Texans – The wheels are starting to come off the Texans, even quicker than expected because they’re going with a rookie third-round draft choice – David Mills – at quarterback. Bills defense will score eight points.

Colts +2.5 over DOLPHINS – The Colts are the hardest-playing 0-3 in the NFL. Is that a backhanded compliment? Dolphins are one hard hit on Jacoby Brissett, who will leave the pocket, from playing Reid Stinnett at QB.

Washington -0.5 over FALCONS – On and off the field, Matt Ryan is a class act. Hard to see his career winding down this way. Washington’s front seven has heard what an utter disappointment they’ve been. They bounce back against the Iceman.

Seahawks +3.5 over 49ERS – Jimmy Garoppolo has been steady but the Niners offense has been unspectacular. Lance Fields has spectacular written in eye black but does Shanahan trust a win-now team to a rookie QB, who has barely played in a year because of COVID?

Cardinals +6 over RAMS – The Rams are going to win and the Matt Stafford-Rams marriage remains a honeymoon but the Cards have scored more than 30 points in each of their three games and show no signs of letting up. Also taking the over (55).

PACKERS -6.5 over Steelers – Shame on Cincy receiver Tyler Boyd for saying a Mike Tomlin-coached team gave up. The Steelers will continue to play hard but Father Time has caught up with Big Ben and salary cap hits have hurt.

BRONCOS -1.5 over Ravens – I’m not sold on the 3-0 Broncos. I’m not sold on the 2-1 Ravens, who easily could be 0-3. Denver’s running game is going to have to improve because half the receiver corps is on IR. Isn’t the Teddy Bridgewater/Nick Fangio story endearing?

Bucs -5.5 over PATRIOTS – We all know the storyline, which means little the second the ball is kicked off. It’s not Brady vs Belichick. It’s not Brady vs. Mac Jones. It’s Brady, the greatest QB ever, being able to work the New England defense while rookie Jones will be harassed by the Bucs defense.

CHARGERS -3.5 over Raiders – The most intriguing question in the NFL is not where the roulette ball will land but are the Raiders for real? If they win this Monday Night SAN DIEGO Chargers showcase in Los Angeles, the SAN DIEGO FOOTBALL TEAM might win the West.

+ Best bet.

Last Week: 10-6; Best Bet: 1-0.

Season, 25-21-3; 3-0.

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