49ers pregame: What to expect from Lance and Mitchell vs. Texans; will Garoppolo need offseason thumb surgery?

49ers pregame: What to expect from Lance and Mitchell vs. Texans; will Garoppolo need offseason thumb surgery?

SANTA CLARA — Here is what is happening with the 49ers heading into today’s home finale against the Houston Texans:


Yes, Trey Lance is expected to make his first Levi’s Stadium start in a rookie season that’s been spent in the shadows, at least since his only previous start, an Oct. 11 loss at the Arizona Cardinals.

With Jimmy Garoppolo resting his sprained thumb, keep an eye on what Lance’s thumb and hand do with the football, while allowing yourself to be mesmerized by his running ability. Lance has completed just 25-of-48 passes (52 percent), and, aside from a touchdown pass in the season opener, all his throws have come in place of an injured Garoppolo, in the second half of a loss to Seattle before the 17-10 defeat at Arizona.

Targets available for Lance are plentiful: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle, Jauan Jennings, among others.

How well Lance succeeds should factor into keeping him in the starting role for the regular-season finale at the Rams and perhaps the playoffs, assuming Garoppolo won’t make a sudden recovery. If Lance inexplicably bombs against the four-win Texans, then the 49ers will have to think hard about playing Garoppolo at less than 100 percent against the Rams.

Garoppolo, after being listed as doubtful, is inactive and won’t suit up, so Nate Sudfeld is Lance’s backup.


Leading rusher Elijah Mitchell will return after missing the past three games, after sustaining a concussion and knee injury at Seattle. If you want an educated guess on how much he’ll be used, consider he got 27, 27 and 22 carries in his past three outings despite an injury-ravaged season.

“We’ll play Elijah as much as he can handle,” coach Kyle Shanahan said Sunday. “So that’s about watching him, watching how his legs work, communicating with him, which is really what Bobby (Turner, the running backs coach) does throughout the game. And when he is tired, if he’s going, Bobby doesn’t hesitate. He puts Jeff (Wilson Jr.) in there, and we have a number of guys we can put in there.”

Mitchell and Lance combined for 25 carries and 132 yards (of the team’s 28-152) in Lance’s start at Arizona. Today, I’d expect a similar number, only this time Mitchell should be the one with the 16-plus carries.

Mitchell brings a quicker, more elusive style that can work so well with outside runs, whereas Wilson is a contact-seeking rusher who runs best the more carries he gets. There’s also a guy named Samuel who’s run for seven touchdowns.


Garoppolo’s Grade III sprain of his right thumb involves a torn ulnar collateral ligament and chipped bone. Shanahan said Friday that, as he understands it, Garoppolo will not require surgery. An NFL Network report Sunday suggested otherwise, that Garoppolo will have surgery after the season.

“They said that they don’t think he needs surgery,” Shanahan said of the 49ers’ medical staff’s diagnosis. “That doesn’t mean that it can’t get worse and that you may need it, so I’m not sure about that. But he doesn’t need surgery right now. And from what I’m told, I don’t think he’ll need it after the season, but there’s always possibilities.”

Garoppolo did not throw nor practice last week, but he did do individual conditioning, and, after Thursday’s workout, he bumped into 49ers CEO Jed York in the parking lot and engaged in a friendly conversation.

Even if Garoppolo’s tenure is likely nearing an end with an offseason trade, the 49ers currently do not feel cornered to make a deal, and neither they nor Garoppolo are acting as if his 49ers’ career is done. All sides are working as if Garoppolo’s rest could keep him available for a return next week or in the playoffs.

Joining Garoppolo on today’s inactive list: linebackers Azeez Al-Shaair and Dre Greenlaw, safety Talanoa Hufanga, tight end Tanner Hudsom, offensive lineman Colton McKivitz and defensive tackle Mo Hurst.


Fans attending today’s game will get a felt pennant commemorating the 49ers’ 75th anniversary.

The late John Madden will be honored with a pregame moment of silence. Here are some stories about Madden from our archives: my tribute upon his death Tuesday, his Pro Football Hall of Fame coaching exploits, his impact in his hometown of Pleasanton and Bay Area, and my Thanksgiving 2016 podcast with him.

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