Running your franchise quarterback is not a winning formula in the NFL and here’s why. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and company traded two first-round picks, a first-round pick swap, and a third-round pick and selected Trey Lance third-overall. Now the 49ers have to wait another year for him to develop.
Background On The Shanahan Coaching Tree
The Shanahan’s are considered “royalty” around the NFL. Kyle’s father Mike Shanahan had a great coaching career winning 56% of his games and two Super Bowls. His coaching tree consists of big-name head coaches such as Matt LaFleur, Anthony Lynn, Gary Kubiak, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Robert Saleh, Mike McDaniel, and Zac Taylor.
Kyle Shanahan and RGIII
When did Kyle become relevant as an NFL coach? Kyle emerged as a top assistant coach in Washington in 2010 as the offensive coordinator. In 2012, The team drafted Robert Griffin III out of Baylor University. Washington traded three first-round picks and a second-round pick to the Rams to select Robert Griffin III.
RG3 won the Heisman trophy during the 2011-2012 college football season. RG3 flashed his speed, athleticism, and arm strength early, beating New Orleans on the road in Week One 40-32. Griffin completed 73% of his passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and added 42-rushing yards to his total.
Throughout 2012, RG3 took the league by storm ending the year with a playoff berth. Washington lost to the Seattle Seahawks and RG3 sustained a significant injury to end his season. However, a big strength for RG3 was running the football. He had 120 carries for 815 yards and 7 touchdowns earning him OROY honors (Offensive Rookie of the Year). But it came at a cost.
During Week 14, RG3 scrambled up the left side and slid awkwardly, exposing his knee to a hit. A Baltimore Ravens defender hit his knee leading to an injury sidelining him for the next game. In his last two games, RG3 played with a heavy brace on his knee and clearly played injured.
Despite this noticeable difference in his game, Mike and Kyle Shanahan chose to run Griffin eight more times in the regular season. Washington made the playoffs and faced Russell Wilson and the Legion of Boom. In this playoff matchup, RG3 ran the ball five times on an injured knee. Later in the 4th quarter, RG3’s knee buckled while trying to recover a fumble. He played the game with a torn-up knee and the non-contact fall took it over the top. Griffin suffered a torn ACL, LCL, and meniscus in his right knee.
Why did the organization play Griffin after his initial injury? Washington gave up significant capital and failed to protect their franchise quarterback. Is a playoff push worth setting a team back five, maybe even ten years? Many thought they should’ve benched Griffin and played their back-up Kirk Cousins to preserve his future.
To everyone’s amazement, Griffin battled back and reclaimed the starting role in 2013, starting thirteen games. Unfortunately, Griffin was not the same player and the Shanahan’s again did not protect their generational star, running him 86 times in 2013 and failed to develop his passing game.
49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and Trey Lance
Fast forward ten years, the 49ers selected Trey Lance from North Dakota State third-overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. The organization traded their future for a high ceiling player in hopes to develop his game into a top-five quarterback.
Lance received his first extended action replacing Jimmy Garoppolo Week Four against Seattle. Starting the second half Lance threw for 157 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers leading to a quarterback rating of 117.1. Lance was the second leading rusher with 41 yards on seven carries, which came mostly on scrambles.
The following week, Trey started his first NFL game against Arizona. The Niners fell to Arizona 17-10 and once again Lance led the team in rushing. He compiled 16 carries but this time over 50% were designed runs/option plays. After the game, it was announced that Lance suffered a knee injury and Jimmy Garoppolo came back to start Week 7 against the Colts.
Lance saw more action Week 17 versus the Houston Texans. He closed a must-win game using his arm in the fourth quarter. On a third-down, Trey hit Jauan Jennings on the left sideline for a first down. On the next play, he hit Deebo Samuel for a 45-yard touchdown giving the 49ers a ten point lead. A two-play sequence that a franchise quarterback makes with a game in limbo. The following drive, Lance threw a seed and hit George Kittle on a third and long to extend a drive, nail in the coffin.
Despite his performance through the air, he ran eight times and was the second leading rusher. In two and a half games, Lance ran the ball 31 times adding scrambled and designed runs together. Questions among the fanbase arose after the Arizona game asking what Kyle’s game-plan was. He responded by playing to Trey’s strengths against Houston leading to a convincing win.
Which Offense Were We Going To See?
In Week One of the 2022-2023 NFL season, Lance was the leading rusher in yards and attempts for the second time in three starts. Both those starts the 49ers lost, only scoring ten points in both games. Are we starting to see a trend with Kyle?
In Week Two, Lance suffered a season ending injury on a read option. He chose to keep it instead of handing it off, however, this was the third carry early in the game. Lance had only attempted three attempts through the air resulting in 30 yards. Additionally, the 49ers running game was accumulating ten yards per carry before the Lance injury. Why? Kyle had three running backs active and also utilized Deebo earlier on a running play. Why run the quarterback?
Running a quarterback excessively is rarely sustainable and injury is inevitable. No team has ever won the Super Bowl using this offensive philosophy, so why would Kyle do this again? If Kyle felt like Trey wasn’t ready to throw, why did he not sit Lance another season? Unfortunately, a potential generational star’s career is hanging in the balance and it could’ve been avoided.
In the post-game press conference, Shanahan alluded that he would continue calling quarterback runs despite the injury.
“Anytime a guy gets hurt, I wish I didn’t call that, but no, that’s something we were going to do and something we’ll continue to do,” Shanahan said.
Gets hurt? You just ran your second franchise quarterback into a potential career-threatening injury.
Hopefully Kyle doesn’t call quarterback runs in 2023.