Trey Lance and Geno Smith are as about as opposite as can be as quarterbacks in the NFL. In fact, I don’t know how they get more opposite.
Lance was a top five pick in the NFL draft last year, and while as raw as can be, he possesses a physical skillset with tremendous potential, if he can figure it out. Geno Smith, however, is ten year vet who started out his career as a starter, struggled, had the team that drafted him give up on him, and then spent most of his career, afterwards, as a backup.. until now.
Geno Smith was also an accomplished four year starter in college who put up gaudy passing numbers at West Virginia while Trey Lance played in only 17 games of football at the small program of North Dakota State. One has to wonder how Geno Smith ended up falling to the 39th pick in the 2013 NFL draft while the San Francisco 49ers felt the need to trade three first round picks to move up for Lance in 2021, but it is what it is. These two quarterbacks will face off with each other this Sunday in Santa Clara.
The implications of this game aren’t just about positioning in the NFC West. If we step back, I think we can seen some interesting implications at play in terms of how the league handles quarterbacks as a whole.
As I have written before, if Geno Smith vastly exceeds expectations as a starter in the league this year, and guides Seattle into playoff contention, that would be an awesome storyline. It would be fun for fans in Seattle, but it would be fantastic for Geno Smith.
It would also be kind of an indictment on how awful the league is on chewing up young quarterbacks and spitting them out. There used to be a time where teams stayed with a young passer knowing that it often takes time to develop properly as a passer in a league where most of the best athletes at the line of scrimmage play on defense because sacks equal big bucks once a rookie contract is up.
Matt Hasselbeck took many years to develop as a passer. So did Alex Smith, and really, so did Drew Brees, and Payton Manning.
People point to all the interceptions Smith threw in his first two years with the Jets but guess who also initially threw a ton of picks? Manning did. Both guys were highly accomplished passers in college who put up all kinds of gaudy stats.
If Trey Lance struggles this year, and is replaced with Jimmy Garoppolo, and Garoppolo goes San Francisco into the playoffs again, it’s likely to put all kinds of pressure on Lance next year to finally get it together in merely just his third season. Seahawk fans can salivate over that scenario, but if it plays out that way, I will feel sorry for the guy.
I believe that the NFL is like a drug dealer when it comes to quarterbacks. It pumps them up to higher than reasonable expectations in order to get fans jacked up, buying jerseys, and putting their butts in the stands.
It also makes the rules on defense easier for receivers to run routes and battle for contested balls, which thus, in theory, makes an average quarterback look better than maybe he would have been twenty years ago. Thus we have Kirk Cousins, and Derek Carr, and Jimmy Garoppolo.
College football is the same type of drug dealer at the position. Every year it hypes up quarterbacks who “could be the top overall pick in the draft” presumably to get fans of NFL teams to watch all the games that college football makes billions of dollars from.
These two entities work symbiotically together. College football produces them, and the NFL viciously spits many of them out.
The league can quickly discard with a young passer for another coming out of college because they know the new guy from college will give fans hope and sell a whole new millions worth of jerseys (see the Jets with Geno Smith to Sam Darnold to Zach Wilson). It’s actually a very vicious cycle.
So, from this perspective, I think it would be really awesome if Geno Smith reminded the league that a dude who as paid his dues by grinding in quarterback rooms and backing up quality starters, such as he has, can be the guy if given the proper opportunity. This actually used to be a reliable model.
Look at the situation in Green Bay in the 1990’s when Mike Holmgren was there. They had Bret Farve as their young starter, but drafted and developed behind him, and many of those guys became quality starters elsewhere once they were traded, or acquired by other means. Mark Brunell, Aaron Brooks, Kurt Warner, and Hasselbeck all became good quarterbacks elsewhere by being coached right in Green Bay and being in a quarterback room with Farve.
But apparently that model isn’t a sexy enough seller in today’s standards of football which are dominated by the NFL and college football quarterback drug empires. This is why I think Geno Smith working out in Seattle is so damn intriguing.
And I think there’s legitimate reasons for rooting for a guy like Trey Lance, as well, and hoping that the league doesn’t spit him out if he struggles over the next couples year, which he might very well do. History kinda shows that he likely will.
But enough of this quarterback crap. Let’s preview this matchup between these two bitters NFC West foes in the Seahawks and 49ers.
Seahawks win this game by
Limiting the big runs that Kyle Shanahan will try to get off of this new look Seattle defense in order to put Lance in a good situation at quarterback. There was a lot that I liked about Seattle’s defensive performance against the Broncos on Monday Night. They flustered Russell Wilson enough, and they were incredible in the red zone, but they also gave up some big runs on the ground at times, and I found that disturbing. Defensive coordinator Clint Hurtt didn’t sound happy about that either, and neither did his players. They know that they need to be better against Shanahan’s exotic ground game. An adjusted look up front in this game might be the ticket.
Confusing Lance when he has to pass and forcing bad throws and sacks. Seattle needs to trick Lance into believing one thing is going to happen with the safeties, but then something else happens entirely after the ball is snapped. This could lead to Lance throwing balls to places that he shouldn’t, and the other is that it makes him hesitate and hang onto the ball too long to which that leads to sacks. Confusing the young passer into bad decisions is key.
Get the run game going in order to better balance out their offense. Geno Smith played a solid game on MNF. His efficiency as a passer was aces, but he could have been helped more by a better established run game. Rashaad Penny only had twelve carries. That’s not enough. San Francisco is another strong defensive team. The genie is out of the bottle on what Geno is capable of in Shane Waldron’s offense. Nick Bosa and company won’t be surprised. Seattle needs to get Penny and company going in this one to slow down a fierce 49er pass rush. Being patient with the run might be the biggest key on offense in this game.
Geno continuing his steady play as a distributor of the ball. What I loved most about Geno’s play against a good Denver defense was how smoothly he got the ball out on time and to the right spots. He just looked really in control. Geno needs to continue taking whatever the defense is giving, but he’s also got to make some timely throws down field when the opportunity is there. Geno also did this well against Denver. He needs to do it again in this one.
49ers beat Seattle by
Running all damn day long with success. Shanahan probably looked at ten minutes of tape from Seattle’s defense on Monday night, and decided his plan. The 3-4 base defense Seattle has using against Denver had a tough time against the run, and particularly Darrell Taylor on the edge. If I am Shanahan, I am running Trey Lance early and often along with Deebo Samuel, and whoever they got healthy in the backfield. If Lance throws less than 20 times, I’d be happy with that in this one. Once Seattle puts more players in the box, that’s when I open up the passing for deep shots down field.
Stuffing the run and making Seattle one dimensional on the road. Playing good defense always starts with stopping the run first. Seattle got away from the run on Monday Night Football. I don’t suspect that they will do this again on the road in Santa Clara. San Francisco has as tough of a front seven as there is in football. They might have the best front seven in football. They should be ready to show it in this one.
Not letting Geno Smith get into an easy rhythm with the quick pass. After week one, the cat is out of the bag on Geno and what Seattle wants to do with him. They want him to hit the quick passes. I would look for my corners to be prepared to jump some of these shorter routes, and make him hesitant with my fierce pass rush coming his way. Until he’s showed he can test my defense deep, I’m going to ask my guys to be extra aggressive.
This has all the makings of a classic Seattle vs San Francisco game. There will be a lot of hitting, there will be mistakes and turnovers, and there will be some big deciding plays. In the end, I’m going with the hotter team coming off the big MNF win. I think the Seahawks take this one 23-17.
There will be times, in this one, where Lance will look more promising than he did in Chicago. The 49ers will have more offensive success, but I suspect that enough critical mistakes will benefit Seattle.
The Seattle Seahawks know what works against Kyle Shanahan’s offense. I actually suspect that we could see an adjusted front from Seattle’s base defense. There are things that Seattle has done defensively in the past that has worked in this matchup, and I think we see a return to that well.
Thus, I think this will be more of an old school match, and in that, I favor Geno Smith to make the better decisions under pressure. Pro Football Focus has been loving Smith all preseason and through this last game in Monday Night. Say what you will about him, but Smith as been making good decisions at quarterback, and also has been making good throws.
When I put all of this together, I see another hard fought game between these two clubs, but see the team who’s quarterback makes the better decisions winning this one, and in that, I ride with Geno.