Will Justin Jefferson become the NFL’s first 2,000-yard receiver? Can Trey Lance kill Shanahan’s executioner?
Last season, Seattle finished above league average defending runs and quarterback-designed scrambles. The Carroll Seahawks in 2021 held opponents to just 2.5 yards per game on engineered quarterback runs (second highest in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats) and 12.0 yards scrambling (at tied at 12th). The collective speed and quickness of the Seahawks front line neutralizes fast quarterbacks trying to sneak around the corner on engineered, impromptu runs.
If the San Francisco quarterback’s running game is bottled up, Lance’s woes are magnified, especially as a middle passer. The 22-year-old is the only quarterback with zero touchdown passes on intermediate throws — 10 to 19 yards — since 2021 (min. 25 attempts). Related note: Jimmy G has 10 touchdown passes on such throws since 2021, seventh in the NFL.
Part of Lance’s problems in Week 1 could be attributed to George Kittle’s absence with a groin injury. The Pro Bowler is one of the best in the business at his position, and his presence allows the 49ers to attack in midfield. With Kittle sidelined, the Bears were able to pay more attention to Deebo Samuel on the perimeter.
Additionally, Kittle provides the advantage in ground attack with his exceptional blocking skills, and reestablishing a dominant running game is key to Lance’s development. If the 49ers are able to run the ball effectively, it reduces the pressure Lance faces when passing, as the defensive line and linebackers are forced to respect the threat of the run before attacking the quarterback. Considering how Lance has struggled against pressure (SEE: A career 35.6 passer rating against pressure, per NGS), the combination of running and passing play would minimize one of his biggest weaknesses. .
As of Friday, Kittle has been questionable for Sunday’s game. Even though the tight end is back, Lance will have to face his demons against a Seahawks defense that has traditionally played well against the 49ers. Carroll has a knack for coming up with game plans that confuse athletic quarterbacks, and his record against San Francisco suggests he has Shanahan’s number.
In a huge early-season contest for the 49ers, Shanahan will have to come up with a game plan that creates easy throws for his quarterback while building on Lance’s skills as a runner. Additionally, the creative play designer must execute the plan while keeping the Niners’ top point guards heavily involved in the action. While that’s easier said than done, it’s necessary to keep a lid on a burgeoning quarterback controversy in the Bay Area.