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49ers LB Kwon Alexander's return 'a coaching decision'

Kwon Alexander could walk in J.J. Watt's footsteps.

The San Francisco 49ers linebacker suffered a pectoral injury days after Watt tore his pec. The latter returned with great effect in the Houston Texans' wild-card win last weekend. Now, Alexander will look to do the same this weekend when his Niners face the Minnesota Vikings.

Alexander returned to practice last week and has reportedly been cleared by the medical staff. Coach Kyle Shanahan said the linebacker is expected to be limited in practice Wednesday.

If and how much Alexander plays in Saturday's tilt will now come down to whether the coaching staff trusts the linebacker coming off injury in a playoff game.

"I was told a long time ago maybe there was an outside chance he could play in the championship," Shanahan said, via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area. "Kwon has been trying to get back, trying to prove us wrong...

"Now it's a coaching decision."

It's not a given that Alexander is shoved right into duty even if he's medically cleared. After his playoff game Saturday, Watt sounded surprised that his pec made it through the entire contest.

"I'm pretty shocked, I'm not going to lie," Watt said after the game of how his injury held up.

Could Alexander share the same luck?

San Francisco is hoping to get back the sideline-to-sideline tackler along with pass rusher Dee Ford, who was limited Tuesday with hamstring and quad injuries. Before the duo got hurt, the Niners' defense was a shutdown unit, allowing 12.8 points per game and 241 total yards. Since Alexander got hurt in Week 9 (Ford has played four snaps since Week 11), the D has allowed 26.0 points per game and 322.6 yards per game.

The question for Shanahan will be whether Alexander will be the same Kwon who gobbled up tackles and defended backs and tight ends in space, or a lesser version that isn't as effective.

The Texans planned to curtail Watt's snaps in their game, holding him out much of the first half. When Houston got down big, those plans were trashed. Watt played the bulk of the second-half snaps and helped spearhead a comeback.

How the 49ers manage Alexander's return, especially after seeing Watt change the game, is one key aspect of Saturday's playoff bout that's worth watching.

Viewers can watch the broadcast live on NBC at 4:35 p.m. ET, Jan. 11 as well as stream live on the NFL App and Yahoo Sports app.

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