49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk has finger surgery, likely out against the Rams
The 49ers will likely be without fullback Kyle Juszczyk in their next game against the Rams, coach Kyle Shanahan announced in his conference call Monday afternoon.
Juszczyk broke his finger while stiff-arming Kansas City safety Justin Reid in the second half of Sunday’s 44-23 loss. He underwent surgery Monday and probably won’t return until after the 49ers’ bye week, which comes after Sunday’s contest at LA.
The 49ers don’t have a backup fullback on their roster, as they cut Josh Hokit — who’d been on the team’s practice squad the past two seasons — in August. Hokit is a free agent.
Juszczyk last missed time in 2019. The 49ers used tight end Ross Dwelley to take his spot over that stretch, and Shanahan hinted that might again be the team’s replacement approach at fullback.
“We’ve got a number of tight ends on our roster who we try to cross-train at the position,” Shanahan said. “Whether it’s Ross or sometimes it’s (George) Kittle, we’ve got (Tyler) Kroft, we’ve got Charlie (Woerner). We use all those guys pretty similar.”
Star 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel also landed on Shanahan’s postgame injury report with a hamstring injury. He’s listed as day to day along with linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who exited the game with a calf injury.
Shanahan said the hamstring issue bothered Samuel, who finished with six touches for 44 yards, down the stretch of Sunday’s game. But the wideout didn’t report the injury until his time at the team facility Monday.
Samuel has consistently delivered splashy performances against the Rams, with his most recent success coming in a showdown on Monday night earlier this month. A sensational 57-yard catch-and-run featuring multiple broken tackles gave the 49ers a major jolt in their key victory.
Greenlaw, who leads the 49ers with 58 tackles this season, also has a history of delivering against the Rams. He logged a team-high 12 tackles in last season’s Week 18 win before again pacing the 49ers with 15 tackles in their recent victory over LA.
Shanahan also hopes that Arik Armstead can return for the 49ers against the Rams, but uncertainty remains as the defensive lineman tries to manage troublesome plantar fasciitis.
“Still continuing his rehab and we’ll see how it goes, but it’s not just a thing that we have a timeline on because it’s not an exact injury,” Shanahan said. “We just have to wait until it’s not flaring up as much.”
Armstead hasn’t played since that Week 4 game versus LA, and the 49ers’ run defense has suffered as a result. The 49ers have allowed only 64 rushing yards per game when Armstead has played and 111 rushing yards per game when he hasn’t been in the lineup.
Those splits are reminiscent of 2021, when the 49ers fielded a below-average run defense before moving Armstead inside to defensive tackle at this time of the season to make up for the loss of defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw (who’s on injured reserve again now). The 49ers ranked No. 1 in run defense EPA from Week 8 onward in 2021 — and they largely credited Armstead’s move to tackle for that surge.
Run defense was an issue in Sunday’s loss, with the Chiefs averaging 5.3 yards per carry the week after Atlanta controlled the game against the 49ers with a ground-and-pound effort.
“We’re missing him a lot,” Shanahan said. “Arik’s our best player in there and it’s been tough without him. Especially the other guys that are missing, too. It’s not just him, but he’s at the top of it.”
• Shanahan theorized that many of the 49ers players who returned to action Sunday played worse than normal, not necessarily because of their injuries but because of missed practice time caused by those injuries.
The most prominent example might’ve been 49ers cornerback Charvarius Ward, who gave up 104 receiving yards on six receptions in what was easily his worst performance of the season. Ward had exited the 49ers’ previous game in Atlanta with a groin injury. He then missed the 49ers’ practices Wednesday and Thursday before returning in a limited capacity Friday.
“He was adamant that he was playing all week, so he was good to go,” Shanahan said. “He was more limited from just not being able to practice as much the last couple weeks. When you don’t practice — which he couldn’t because of what he was going through — it does have an effect on these guys, and that stuff adds up. … The less you practice, the worse you get.”
• Kansas City’s Chris Jones entered the weekend leading all NFL defensive tackles in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate, but Shanahan was happy with how the 49ers’ interior offensive linemen — who used slide protection techniques — handled the challenge.
Problems arose over the 12 snaps that the Chiefs aligned Jones over 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey. Jones logged two sacks and four pressures against McGlinchey in his most extensive work of the season at that defensive end spot.
“I think we handled them pretty good up front, especially the way we handled (Jones) inside,” Shanahan said. “When the game got a little out of hand toward the end, I thought we struggled when we became one-dimensional and those guys teed off a little more on the edge.”
• The 49ers’ O-line struggles — especially at the tackle spots — in those straight dropback situations, however, were notably damaging. Even left tackle Trent Williams suffered a lowlight when Kansas City edge rusher Frank Clark blistered past him virtually unimpeded to record a safety.
The 49ers did counter with some success on outlet throws against pressure from Jimmy Garoppolo to Juszczyk (the play on which the fullback broke his finger) and newly acquired running back Christian McCaffrey.
But on the aggregate, the 49ers haven’t striven to mitigate pressure via running back screens all too often over the past three seasons. They’ve done so only seven times in 2022. Here is the number of screen passes the 49ers have thrown to running backs by season since Shanahan took over as coach, courtesy of Pro Football Focus:
|Screens to RBs
The 49ers have thrown 37 screen passes of a different variety this season — to wide receivers. And Shanahan cited this Monday. But he did indicate that McCaffrey, who led NFL running backs with 16 screen-pass receptions over the first six weeks of this season with Carolina, would likely change the 49ers’ screen-pass distribution this season.
And that might end up being a key way that the 49ers try to mitigate pressure on pass-obvious downs.
“Everything goes into it,” Shanahan said of the year-to-year fluctuation above. “Running backs change. Some are better at it than others. I know Christian is good at it, so it shouldn’t hurt that stat. I also know our receivers are pretty good at screens, too. So if you know a screen’s going to be good and it doesn’t matter who’s on it, you give it to the guy who’s best at it. And that’s been our receivers here for the past couple years.
“But I think our backs are good at it, too. They ran a number of good ones here the last couple of weeks, and we’ll see if that picks up.”
(Photo of Kyle Juszczyk: Godofredo A. Vásquez / Associated Press)