This isn’t the first, and it sure won’t be the last time, but I was wrong. I thought when you bench a player in a critical situation; you’re all but giving upon him. That’s not the case for the San Francisco 49ers and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who is going to start Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings.
Defensive Coordinator Robert Saleh said Witherspoon played a “pretty good football game” and that he was caught in a couple of bad situations. “To say he played a poor game against Seattle would be inaccurate,” Saleh said when you look at it on the surface level, it’s easy to see Ahkello, and a guy catching the football, so it’s easy to think he didn’t do his job. Saleh used an example that Witherspoon could have been making up for one of his teammates who busted a coverage when maybe he shouldn’t have been there in the first place. On the final play, Saleh said Witherspoon guessed wrong instead of staying on top of playing his technique. He said when you guess and don’t make a play, especially at cornerback, it’s usually costly.
“The whole size thing is great, only if you can cover. It’s whether or not you can cover, use your length, use your leverage, and if you can cover.” Saleh would not answer the question of why Witherspoon was benched. he said, “I’ll keep that in-house if you don’t mind.”
To be fair to Spoon, some of the yards he gave up came on scramble drills. I don’t fault him too much for the touchdown against Tyler Lockett. It was one of those “good offense beats good defense” scenarios. Witherspoon was right there; he was guarding Lockett for exactly 5.03 seconds, I timed it.
The touchdown to D.K. Metcalf? That was bad. Let’s walk through that play:
From the replay angle, you can see Witherspoon not only give ground but “open the gate.” Once he did that, it was all she wrote, and he never had a chance. When I say open the gate, I mean open his hips up. You don’t want to turn any route into a track meet. Against Metcalf, that’s a terrible idea. It was 2nd & 8, and Witherspoon was playing so heavy inside that you’d think he anticipated some sort of inside breaking route. That’s my guess, considering how Metcalf slow-played it off the line of scrimmage.
He’s going to be tested against the Vikings, make no mistake about it. Witherspoon will compete. You hope that the added pass rush will make him look better. Witherspoon’s coverage has been fine; it’s his eyes and ability to find the ball that has taken a step back. Pass rush helps all, and Saleh probably didn’t want to make a drastic change for four quarters.