The player drafted to be the next Kyler Murray is likely to get a shot at defeating the superstar in his first NFL start Sunday afternoon when Trey Lance and the San Francisco 49ers visit Murray’s unbeaten Arizona Cardinals.
The No. 3 overall pick in the April draft, taken after traditional-style quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, Lance is expected to get the call this week with regular starter Jimmy Garoppolo dealing with a sore calf.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has not announced a starter, but has indicated if Garoppolo can’t practice by Friday, he’d need to switch starters.
Enter Lance, who had taken just seven snaps in San Francisco’s first three games before being pressed into action for the second half of last week’s 28-21 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks. The North Dakota State product threw a 76-yard touchdown pass during a 9-for-18, 157-yard effort in a come-from-behind bid after Seattle had gone up 21-7 in the third period.
Considered more of a runner than a passer, Lance has rushed 11 times for 44 yards and one touchdown in three games played.
With Garoppolo unable to practice Wednesday, Shanahan began the process of transitioning Lance into his starting quarterback. Among the goals in practice: Avoid “backyard ball.”
“Anytime you can have a guy who can create an off-schedule play and bide more time, that’s great,” Shanahan said. “When you can run around when people are playing soft zones, those only can hold up so long. But that starts turning into a little bit of backyard ball. You don’t want to force that type of game.”
49ers star left tackle Trent Williams also is questionable this week with a shoulder injury.
Lance’s rushing numbers are dwarfed by Murray’s 109 yards and three TDs on 23 carries during Arizona’s unbeaten start. The third-year star also has passed for 1,273 yards and nine touchdowns, with a 76.1 percent completion rate that is best in the NFL.
The duel between scrambling quarterbacks highlights a matchup of the NFC West’s top and bottom teams, with Arizona (4-0) having steamrolled opponents on the strength of a league-high 140 points, while San Francisco (2-2) has lost two straight at home after opening 2-0 on the road.
The 49ers have beaten the Cardinals each of the last two times they’ve met at Arizona, including 20-12 in Week 16 last year in a game in which Murray was held without a touchdown pass despite 50 attempts.
Coincidentally, it was San Francisco’s only win in four games at State Farm Stadium last year; the 49ers were prohibited from playing at their own Levi’s Stadium in December or January because of COVID restrictions.
The Cardinals’ offensive success this season has been the result of balance.
Two backs (Chase Edmonds and James Conner) have rushed for 172 or more yards, while five receivers (A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore and Maxx Williams) have hauled in passes for 179 or more yards.
Former collegiate pass-game whiz Kliff Kingsbury finally has his NFL offense humming, and he knows why.
“It makes it more difficult to defend, definitely, when a team’s preparing for you and they don’t know which guy to try to stop,” he said. “And it’s a credit to Kyler, a credit to those receivers that are playing at a high level, Maxx included, Chase. So it’s really been fun to see how the distribution has worked out so far.”
–Field Level Media