How the 49ers can use Trey Lance to exploit Packers defense on ‘Sunday Night Football’

Trey Lance received his first snaps of NFL exposure in Week 1, and he made them memorable.

On the first drive where he made an appearance, Lance put the 49ers on the board with their first touchdown of the season, snapping off a 5-yard touchdown pass to Trent Sherfield. The following week? He rode the pine, sitting out the entirety of the Week 2 matchup against the Eagles.

This week, San Francisco faces a stiff challenge, welcoming the Packers to Levi Stadium for their “Sunday Night Football” matchup. Lance certainly won’t be getting the start, but facing a Green Bay defense that has looked susceptible early on, Lance could be a secret weapon to whom coach Kyle Shanahan could turn.

Lance’s college success

Lance showed during his college career that he is a dynamic talent.

He appeared in only 19 games at North Dakota State — the 2020 campaign was reduced to one game due to the COVID1-9 pandemic — but his career numbers were fantastic. He completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,947 yards with 30 touchdowns and just a single interception. On the ground, he took 192 carries 1,325 yards and scored 18 times on the ground.

Most of that came during his redshirt freshman campaign, when he threw 28 touchdowns to no interceptions and set a NDSU freshman record with 1,100 rushing yards. He rushed for at least 50 yards in nine of the team’s 16 games.

In the FCS national championship game against James Madison, he rushed for a single game-high 181 yards on 30 carries and scored a touchdown as he helped lead the team to a 28-20 win.

Shanahan’s Lance plan

Shanahan insists that he is not going to use Lance just to use him, and that he will only deploy him if the game plan calls for him.

“No, I never have a plan that, ‘Hey, I’m going to use him, or I’m not going to use him.’ It’s always an option throughout the game,” Shanahan said, according to the 49ers. “t’s been two games, and I’ve never had him in the openers, and I’ve never had him as a designated time. I plan on doing that week-to-week and whenever I feel like putting him in. You saw when I did in Week 1, and I never got that urge in Week 2.”

Shanahan also said that instead of just gaining live game experience, he wants to bring Lance in more just as a means of attacking opposing defenses. He said the team is simply trying to win games.

He added that when the team has a quarterback that brings in a different skillset, it forces teams to prepare for him each week and that it is “an awesome club that we have in our bat that we can use at any time.”

“But you don’t really make decisions based off your team of just putting a guy in totally just for how that is for him in the future. I think that’d be irresponsible to everybody else in the room. You do it if you think it gives you a chance based off of what’s going on in that game, that game only,” Shanahan said. “In the meantime, yeah, it’s nice for a guy to get out there. But if it wasn’t because he was bringing a different element that we thought could help us with something that we’re going against, there’s no other reason that we would do it.”

Jimmy Garappolo hasn’t been a star by any means, but he has also done enough to help the team win. He’s completed 70.9 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and 503 yards, and he’s rushed 14 times for 22 yards and a touchdown.

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Packers’ struggles with mobile quarterbacks

The Packers defense has not gotten off to a great start this year. They coughed up 38 points in blowout defeat to the Saints in Week 1 and allowed 17 to the Lions in a 35-17 bounceback win.

What’s perhaps worse is how Jameis Winston and Jared Goff were able to run against Green Bay. Winston rushed six times for 37 yards. It was only the eighth time in 77 games that he rushed for more than 30 yards. Goff rushed four times for 46 yards in a career-high performance by double his previous best. Only three times in his career has he rushed for more than 20 yards in a game.

The Packers have been fortunate that in the past they have not faced many mobile quarterbacks. They’ve never faced Lamar Jackson. They’ve never faced Kyler Murray. They’ve faced Russell Wilson six times and he’s rushed 31 times for 201 yards.

Should the 49ers decide to use Lance in the game, he’d bring arguably the most mobile skillset Green Bay has faced since opposing Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick, of course, has had some incredible games against Green Bay. In the 2013 postseason, he rushed 16 times for 181 yards and scored twice. In 2014, he rushed seven times for 98 yards.

Sure, it’s a few years removed from the days of Kaepernick, but the Packers have routinely shown themselves to be vulnerable to mobile QBs, and it hasn’t helped that they haven’t faced many to be able to improve in covering them.

Especially for a 49ers squad that has seen injuries to its top running backs, adding in a mobile threat like Lance to the fold would force the Packers to be concerned with covering both Lance’s legs and the running back.

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