There is no guarantee that Jimmy Garoppolo will be able to successfully perform the most basic requirements of a quarterback at the most crucial stage of the season.
49-year-old players need to hold the soccer ball firmly and throw it accurately.
This week’s 49 players must prepare for a virtual match to win or go home against the Los Angeles Rams, the leading Los Angeles Rams in the Western NFC.
If the 49 players win, they advance to the playoffs. Even if the 49ers lose, they can still make the playoffs but only if the Atlanta Falcons upset the New Orleans Saints.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said Garoppolo will start if he’s healthy enough to run.
But if Garoppolo is unable to work with a torn ligament in his right thumb, Shanahan will turn again to rookie Trey Lance.
The options for the 49ers are: 1). A midfielder who is physically less than 100%; or, 2). Quarterback who is currently under 100 percent with the offensive team system.
Tight end George Kettle noted in the aftermath of the 49ers’ 23-7 victory over the Houston Texans that the 49ers entered the game with a modified game plan designed specifically for Lance.
“It was (essentially) a little bit more than usual,” Keitel said.
Shanahan is well-regarded for the detail of his attack, which includes a variety of transitions, moves, and modifications before and after the blitz based on call play and defense.
The 49ers’ approach with the Lance was, essentially, to call a play in the crowd and run regardless of defense alignment or coverage.
If there is any question about Garoppolo’s ability to play, the question becomes whether the 49ers want to make sacrifices with the quarterback not being 100 percent healthy or not 100 percent healthy with the scheme.
This decision will only be made with the final week of the regular season in mind.
But the decision to trade two future draft picks in the first round, as well as the third round, to move into third for Lance was all about future seasons.
Lance’s performance in Week 17 may have shown that he was improving behind the scenes as Garoppolo’s replacement. Lance looked more relaxed and more like the NFL quarterback on Sunday than he did in a disjointed Week 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals.
On Sunday, Lance completed 16 of 23 passing attempts for 249 yards with two touchdowns, one interception, and a passing rating of 116.0. He didn’t rely much on his running either, carrying the ball only eight times for 31 yards.
He was far from perfect, of course, but Lance demonstrated plenty of skills that inspired Shanahan and general manager John Lynch to take the bold step they are confident will benefit the 49ers for many years to come.
Shanahan approached this season on two tracks. He wanted to make the most of this season with the midfielder who gave the team the best chance of winning in 2021. He wanted to set up Lance and build his confidence to put him in the most useful position when he takes over as the start of 2022.
Playing an NFL quarterback as a rookie is no easy feat. The two top draft picks, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, struggled hard. Are they better prepared for future success? This is debatable. They certainly weren’t ready to take over at the start of their seasons, but the Jacksonville and New York Jets had no other options.
With Garoppolo, the 49ers had another option. On the whole, Garoppolo played well. Lance seems to have used his time as a backup wisely. He showed up when he started his first game at Levi’s Stadium.
Related: 49ers attack rating, defense in pivotal win over Texas
Lance had success against the Texans and kept the 49ers alive in the NFC playoff picture. That, in and of itself, should give him a confidence boost before heading off to the off-season.
And if he gets called up again in Week 18 against the Rams, Lance’s learning and growth will continue. He will benefit in the future – regardless of the outcome.
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