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Whatever happened to the screen pass?

As I was going through the weekly truckload of information that ESPN Stats & Information sends us each week earlier Wednesday, I was glancing at a breakdown of screen passes and looking to see where the NFC South quarterbacks ranked in that area.

At first glance, I couldn’t find Atlanta’s Matt Ryan anywhere on the list. Then, I checked it a second, third and fourth time. Then, I noticed a little disclaimer at the bottom that said only quarterbacks who have attempted at least five screen passes were listed.

That set off a little bell. I know I haven’t seen a lot of screen passes from Atlanta, but I wanted to make sure there wasn’t some kind of mistake. There wasn’t. When I reached out to our stats people, they explained that Ryan, indeed, did not qualify for the list.

The explanation is pretty simple. Ryan has attempted three screen passes this season. He’s completed two for 21 yards. Atlanta’s three screen passes are the fewest in the league. Chicago leads with 22 and we’ll get to the other NFC South teams in just a minute.

But I think the Atlanta situation deserves a little more attention first. What about all that offseason talk about getting running back Michael Turner more involved in the passing game? Technically, he is. Turner has seven catches this season, which tops his career high of six in 2008. But, obviously, a few of his receptions have been downfield and not screens. Turner has 50 receiving yards on the season. Backup Jason Snelling has 13 catches, but, again, they’re obviously not all screen passes.

For the sake of comparison, screen passes don’t seem to be a hot trend throughout the NFC South. The one exception is New Orleans, where Drew Brees has completed 19 of 21 screen passes for 156 yards.

Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman has completed four of six for 82 yards. Carolina’s Jimmy Clausen has completed six of seven screens for 64 yards and Matt Moore, who will replace Clausen as the starter this week, hasn’t attempted enough screens to be on the list.

Also, Freeman and Clausen each have had a screen pass intercepted and no NFC South quarterback has had a screen pass go for a touchdown this year.