In Lance, RG3 feels Shanahan has first dynamic QB since himself originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
The 2012 Washington Redskins season was one of the most exciting and successful seasons in the franchise’s recent memory in large part thanks to then-rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Behind Griffin and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Washington had one of the most thrilling offenses in the entire NFL. That high-powered unit led Washington on a seven-game winning streak to end the regular season, an NFC East title and a two-touchdown lead in an NFC Wild Card playoff game before Griffin tore up his knee.
The 2013 season was a disaster, though, and Shanahan moved on to Cleveland following the season. One year later, Shanahan took the offensive coordinator job in Atlanta, a role he excelled in for two seasons. In 2017, he was hired as the San Francisco 49ers head coach, the title he’s held ever since.
Shanahan experienced success both in Atlanta and now in San Francisco. With the Falcons, Matt Ryan won an MVP under his supervision and the Falcons made it to the Super Bowl that same season. In San Francisco, Shanahan’s 49ers reached the Super Bowl in 2019 and were just a couple of plays away from returning to the sport’s biggest stage this past winter.
Yet, as Shanahan enters his sixth season as the 49ers’ boss, his offense is expected to look a lot different than it has the past several years. Second-year quarterback Trey Lance — a dynamic, true dual-threat signal-caller — is projected to be the team’s starter in 2022, replacing Jimmy Garoppolo, a more traditional dropback passer.
And, in Griffin’s opinion, Lance gives Shanahan his first “dynamic” option at quarterback since Griffin himself.
“I do believe having a dynamic player at the quarterback position will take Kyle Shanahan to places he wants to go,” Griffin told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco on the 49ers Talk podcast.
Griffin had immense praise for Lance’s skill set and went on to say that he believes the second-year quarterback could be the missing piece for Shanahan and San Francisco to get over the hump.
“Kyle Shanahan has had his most success — not his most excitement — with guys like Matt Ryan and Jimmy Garoppolo, who you know are going to run the play and put the onus on the coach to have the system work. If it doesn’t work, those guys are throwing the ball away and moving on to the next down. Guys like Trey Lance and myself, our talent takes over at times when the play is not there and you can make the coach right,” Griffin said.
“I think that’s what’s going to take the Niners over the hump and give them the opportunity to win the Super Bowl, not just get to the Super Bowl. I just don’t know when that’s going to happen because we’re not going to know the truth about who Trey Lance is for another two, three years.”
Griffin believes that Shanahan has preferred employing a typical dropback quarterback like Garoppolo or Ryan, over someone like Lance or himself, because the 49ers’ head coach is a “control freak.” Now, by giving the keys to Lance, someone who can freelance and make plays on the fly, Shanahan is having a “growth moment,” according to Griffin.
“He wants to control everything. He wants to control every aspect of the offense. … Maybe he’s understanding that sometimes you need that guy to just make a play for you,” Griffin said.
Dating back to his time in Washington, Griffin pointed out arguably his most famous play as an example of such. During the 2012 season, Washington was leading Minnesota by five late in the fourth quarter and needed to convert on a third-and-long play to keep the drive alive. Griffin misread the defensive coverage, but instead of hitting the quick out-route, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Seventy-six yards down the left sideline later, Griffin was in the end zone.
“That 76-yard touchdown run I had against the Minnesota Vikings in 2012, I was dead wrong on that play. Dead wrong,” Griffin said. “We had a blitz up the middle, I thought I was hot. I wasn’t hot. I literally took a three-step drop, then ran to the left and the rest is history. Matt Ryan is not doing that. Jimmy Garoppolo is not doing that.”
During a meeting the next day, Shanahan told Griffin that he should’ve hit the out-route for a 10-yard gain and then moved on to the next play. That’s what Garoppolo and Ryan would have done, Griffin feels.
So, why would Shanahan have preferred Griffin to do that, rather than scramble for a big play? Well, the former QB believes it goes back to Shanahan having total control of the offense.
“It’s easier to build the offensive system that Kyle wants to run with guys like Jimmy Garoppolo and Matt Ryan, because you know what to expect,” Griffin said. “With a guy like myself and Trey Lance, there’s going to be moments where your talent just takes over, or the play is not there and you see something, take off and run.”
Ten years after that magical 2012 season, Shanahan is still searching for his first Super Bowl. The head coach has gotten extremely close to winning two Lombardi Trophies, but both times his teams have surrendered fourth-quarter leads. Griffin feels that sitting on leads has been something the Shanahan system has done dating back to his Washington days and hopes that with Lance under center, Shanahan will be more aggressive playing with leads moving forward.
It’s worth mentioning that Griffin and Shanahan’s partnership in Washington didn’t end well, but Griffin says he’s reached out to the coach almost every year since then and that the two are “fine.”
With Lance’s versatile skill set, Griffin feels Shanahan has a golden opportunity to take the 49ers to new heights. But for that to happen, Shanahan has to let Lance be himself, rather than try and force his system on the second-year QB.
“I think Kyle Shanahan has realized that maybe his own kryptonite is his control. Maybe he needs to alleviate that a little bit,” Griffin said.” He’s got a guy in Trey Lance who’s extremely smart, extremely athletic and has an extremely strong arm. He can run both systems: he can run what I ran and what Jimmy Garoppolo ran. That’s what the 49ers need.”