The 2022 49ers are a collision of clichés that make any kind of logical prediction all but impossible.
Cliché No. 1: If you have two quarterbacks, you have none.
Cliché No. 2: You can’t get to a Super Bowl without a competent quarterback.
Cliché No. 3: Without a quality offensive line, it doesn’t matter how good the skill players are.
Cliché No. 4: Injuries happen.
Sure, Trey Lance is the starting quarterback, and yes, Kyle Shanahan is committed to the player he mortgaged the team’s future for. We can certainly expect the playbook to reflect that commitment, and we can also expect Shanahan to give his second-year quarterback some time to settle in.
The key phrase, though, is “some time.” How long is that exactly? If the Niners, who have Super Bowl aspirations (whether warranted or not), cough up a couple losses due to an inefficient offense, has “some time” expired? Is a 1-3 start enough to reach for the panic button with the number 10 on it?
Yes, Jimmy Garoppolo will be running the second team in practice all week, putting the ball right on the numbers and reminding the veterans that experience matters. It will only take a few ineffective Sundays for those veterans to tire of Lance’s mistakes and inconsistent mechanics, and of course, the fan base will be right there with them.
Now maybe Lance steps right in and delivers – this is Shanahan’s Plan A, and it just might happen. Lance’s mobility and feel for the game might manifest immediately, and with George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Elijah Mitchell all healthy, the Niners could move up and down the field with spectacular frequency. And “the next Mahomes” would no longer be whispered but said right out loud.
There is, however, one big problem standing in the way – or more precisely, not standing in the way: The offensive line. There is no reason to believe Aaron Banks is a quality NFL lineman, or, for that matter, that any San Francisco offensive lineman not named Trent Williams is going to play at a Super Bowl (or even playoff) level. Which leaves Lance flat on his back with a 280-pound defensive lineman whispering sweet nothings into his ear from two inches away, or desperately sprinting to the sidelines hoping that something good might come of this latest pocket collapse.
Without time to set up with confidence, no quarterback can succeed – especially one with Lance’s long windup. Without success up front, Mitchell and Samuels will struggle to get much past the line of scrimmage before they are assaulted by large men with bad intentions.
If this painful scenario plays out, what then? If Lance has no chance to succeed because his line is pathetic, does Shanahan stick with him? Would going for Garoppolo to protect the aforementioned massive investment be the smart move? Or would it send the message to Lance that he’s just not good enough?
Which leads inexorably to Cliché No. 4: Injuries happen. Lance will undoubtedly rely on his mobility to make plays, and a mobile quarterback is vulnerable to a high-speed impact from a 230-pound linebacker. And any quarterback would be vulnerable with Banks trying to protect him, which means Garoppolo’s presence is an excellent insurance policy. (And if Trent Williams gets hurt … well, better not even think about that.)
It’s a good policy, granted, except for Cliché No. 1, about two quarterbacks being one too many. And about expectations from veterans and fans, and pressure to win yesterday, and the inevitable avalanche of speculation and vituperation that can tear a team apart.
Dewy-eyed optimists have reason to cling to the positive and envision a deep run in the playoffs. Cynical, scarred Niner fans have reason to expect collapse and disaster.
The rest of us, though, must endure uncertainty. There is no set of facts, no overwhelming logic, that lead to a reasonable expectation about how this season will play out. Of course, that’s part of what makes it fun – for fans, at least, if not necessarily for Trey Lance.