Programming note: Watch Friday’s 49ers press conference with Jim Harbaugh streaming live right here at 12:15 p.m.
SANTA CLARA – Only one team in the NFL has attempted fewer screen passes to halfbacks this season than the 49ers.
And when the 49ers have called some variation of a screen pass, the plays have gone nowhere.
The 49ers have attempted just five screens through the first 13 games, according to Pro Football Focus. Only the Arizona Cardinals have attempted fewer with three.
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“We’ve run a couple that unfortunately got snuffed out – I don’t know if they made the list,” 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “Screens are something we carry, we work on (and) hopefully run at the appropriate time.”
The appropriate time has been few and far between. The 49ers do not run the plays because, simply, they are not very good at them. Although four of the five screen passes have been completed, they've gone for just 22 yards, according to PFF. Several other attempts at swing passes have failed, such as an incompletion on a pass intended for LaMichael James against Washington three weeks ago.
The 49ers’ offensive line does a lot of things very well. But the finesse game is not its forte.
The 49ers have built a powerful offensive line that is most comfortable running the ball straight ahead between the tackles. The pulling and movement that occurs with the offensive line is generally confined to tight spaces, such as a guard pulling to the gap between the opposite guard and tackle.
Also, quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who ranks 33rd in the NFL – yes, there are only 32 teams -- with a 57.2 completion percentage, appears to be more comfortable unleashing his powerful arm down the field. He is not best-suited for the touch passes that are asked of a quarterback throwing a screen.
Two former NFL quarterbacks recently suggested – neither wanted to be quoted –Kaepernick might spend too much time in the weight room bulking up his upper body. Being too muscular could make a quarterback tight and mechanical, which would have a negative impact on touch passes.
Three of the attempted screens have gone to Frank Gore. One apiece has been intended for Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon.
James might be the running back most likely to execute a screen. But he has not been able to win playing time and his skill set is not the best match for the strengths of the 49ers’ offensive line. James played a combined 10 snaps in three games before not seeing any action on offense the past two games.