The San Francisco 49ers made two minor changes last weekend against the Green Bay Packers, electing to start veteran Jon Feliciano, who played 54 of the team’s 64 offensive snaps, at right guard over Spencer Burford, and Logan Ryan, who played all 67 of the team’s defensive snaps, at safety over Ji’Ayir Brown.
Defensively, it was a tough game for Ryan, who exhibited poor tackling on Aaron Jones’s 53-yard run near the line of scrimmage, while also busting a quarters-coverage play later on, leaving Ambry Thomas without help, which cost San Francisco on a major play.
Ryan earned the start at safety, despite him joining the team just over a month earlier, as Brown had missed the last two weeks of the season while recovering from a knee injury.
Shanahan said that the time off was a key reason why the 49ers elected to go with the veteran over the rookie, citing that it would be unfair to thrust the 2023 third-round pick into that type of environment coming off an injury.
“We knew that we kind of decided that when Ji’Ayir had missed about four weeks,” Shanahan said about the decision to start Ryan over Brown. “I think it was two games, but he had been out four weeks. He’s been awesome in practice. I love Ji’Ayir. It has nothing to do with him. Just our experience of playoff games being around us.”
While Brown’s aggressiveness has been an asset for the team this season, Shanahan thought that a veteran presence could calm things down, which is why he benched his rookie in favor of Ryan.
“I think it’s a lot when you got a rookie who hasn’t played in a month, who is a very passionate, aggressive player. I just don’t want to put all that on him, to have him go out in the playoff game when he hasn’t been out there for four weeks. Especially when you have a veteran behind him who could just calm down a little bit. If things would’ve gone differently, we would’ve put Ji’Ayir in right away. But we don’t want to do that really to Ji’Ayir.”
Speaking to reporters for the first time since his benching, Brown shared his honest reaction, acknowledging his disagreement with the decision, but also revealing that he’s willing to go with the best direction for the team.
“I got a pretty good understanding of what was going on,” Brown said about the starting safety situation with Logan Ryan. “I’m all for the team. What Kyle thinks is best, I’m going to go with it. Whether I agree with it or not, I understand it. And me, personally, I didn’t agree with it, but I understood Kyle, and I understand the mission of this team. And as long as we can get the win, and however I can help the team out, I’m all good.”
However, Brown knew the move wasn’t a personal one against him, although his feelings remained the same.
“Yeah, it’s not personal,” Brown clarified. “Nothing’s personal. Whether you can feel that in your own chest, you know that it’s personal or not, but it’s nothing personal in this league. It’s all about the win.”
Of course, the move somewhat backfired, as Ryan didn’t have his best game, leaving questions as to whether the 49ers would make another change ahead of the NFC Championship Game.
Speaking about the run defense and Ryan’s struggles on Thursday, Shanahan acknowledged the 49ers’ issues in that category against the Packers, pointing out the veteran while also sharing that Brown is still in the mix at safety, although it’s unclear what his role will be against the Lions.
“I would say overall we all have to improve on the run, and I know we point out Logan,” Shanahan said Thursday. “He (Ryan) has to improve on his tackling as we know. He’s going to get better with that. Ji’Ayir is still in the mix. We’ll see exactly how it goes this week and exactly how much he’s going to play. If he will play, if he will start or whatnot, we don’t know. That’s still an ongoing process right now.”
Could Brown see some action against the Lions, as he’s still in the mix in practice?
“Yeah, there’s a chance,” Shanahan said on Wednesday. “I thought he ended the week real well and I expect him to be that much better this week because of it.”
However, should Brown not play for a second consecutive weekend, it would be due to the coach’s decision, not his injury status, as the safety clarified that he is a full-go in that department, which was the case last weekend as well.
“I’m 100 percent, yeah. Same as last week,” Brown said on Wednesday.
The 49ers have the option to make a change and it could suit them better, as stopping the run, especially on the edges, will be an important factor in controlling the pace of the game against the Lions.
While Brown is a rookie without playoff experience and has a level of aggressiveness to him, there is an inherent value in playing the third-round pick over the veteran Ryan, who isn’t immune to mistakes himself, as seen against the Packers.
The 49ers are an aggressive defense that flows well at all levels of the field and Brown’s ability in both the run and pass game attribute to that, which had been occurring over the last few weeks of the season prior to the rookie’s injury.
As of now, it doesn’t appear that a change is likely, but the situation will be one to monitor up until game time on Sunday.