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What was Donte Whitner supposed to do on this play?

We break down a GIF of Donte Whitner's hit on Chris Givens that drew an unnecessary roughness penalty. What could Donte do? New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Late in Thursday's win over the Rams, the 49ers gave up a touchdown pass from Sam Bradford to Lance Kendricks. The touchdown was set up by an unnecessary roughness call against 49ers safety Donte Whitner. On that play, Bradford fired a pass to Chris Givens in the middle of the end zone. Givens went up for the play, and as he was coming down, Donte Whitner drilled him with his left shoulder. Here is a GIF of the play. It is not the ideal camera shot, but you can get a good idea of what is going on:


Whitner was flagged, and the next play saw the Rams score a touchdown. I am not surprised Whitner was flagged on this play, but it creates some questions about the rules. Givens became a defenseless receiver, and as I understand it, any hit to the head or neck area, even with a shoulder, will end up getting flagged for unnecessary roughness.

The question in my mind is what should Whitner be expected to do in this play? It actually looks like he slows up a bit on the play, and as the GIF shows, he goes out of his way to lower his shoulder, rather than lead with his helmet. As I see it, the NFL would look at Whitner and say he had a couple options:

1. Lower himself entirely and don't hit Givens

2. Try and hit him in the stomach or anywhere but the head/neck region

The problem with the latter is that Givens was coming down and basically saw his body turn into Whitner's hit. I just don't understand what Whitner could otherwise do, while still making an attempt to defend the pass. It's ridiculous to think he can't make a defensive play. Was Whitner in an impossible situation? I suppose the penalty should not surprise us, but would it be absurd to see him get fined for this hit?