One of the reasons that the Los Angeles Rams were gashing the San Francisco 49ers' defense was due to the poor performance of cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon. Right from the get go, Witherspoon was challenged in the endzone against Brandin Cooks - who would end up scoring on him. It was quite the disrespectful play to allow since Cooks out-manned him for the ball. Wasn't the best of looks for Witherspoon who appeared soft.
Soft would be the theme of the game for him as that was his primary coverage for most of the game. Luckily, his performance did not cost the 49ers the game. Nevertheless, his showing was unacceptable as the games are all high stakes. Witherspoon has not looked right since returning from injury, so it begs the question to ask: Should the 49ers bench Ahkello Witherspoon?
It is getting close to becoming an easy decision to make, though the 49ers should give him a last chance. If anything, the 49ers could just bench him mid-game and have Emmanuel Moseley take over. Moseley has had an impressive season thus far and doesn't show any signs of concerns in coverage. His worst game was against the Atlanta Falcons, but covering Julio Jones will give any defender issues.
If Witherspoon is going to be benched, then his case is against him. Against the Rams he had 48.6 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus and allowed three receptions on five targets, 19 yards per reception, and two touchdowns.
That was a game that a player throws away the film because there was nothing but hot garbage put on display there. But then that would mean he is throwing away his second consecutive game film since over the last two games he has been on the low tier end of performances. 14 targets, 12 receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns with 0 passes defensed is his resume during that time.
When asked if there is now a battle between Emmanuel Moseley and Witherspoon, Kyle Shanahan answered:
“No, I’m alright with Ahkello. I think Ahkello, he definitely could play better, but they got him on a bootleg. It wasn’t man-to-man coverage, they got him on a bootleg that he just needed to squeeze something and was a little bit late to do it and they got him on two man-to-man crossing routes that got him. Ahkello’s done some good things. I think he’ll play better next week, but I saw him this morning, he wasn’t happy with how he played. He knows he could play better. I feel very confident with him recognizing that, even before we watched the tape that I know he’ll come out firing next week and be ready to redeem himself."
Shanahan clearly remains steadfast that he is going to stick with Witherspoon. Against Atlanta is the one excusable game because Julio Jones is a Hall of Fame caliber player. What cornerback doesn't get owned by him? Even Moseley had no luck against him. But against the Rams wide receivers? That should have been the game he bunkered down.
The complete opposite ended up happening. Sean McVay made it a point for Jared Goff to attack him. It didn't matter which receiver he was covering, he struggled against every single one. Technique doesn't really seem to be the issue with his performance. It really appears that he is simply failing to execute by either playing the ball wrong or playing too soft.
That is something that could be corrected with some film sessions, unless he really did burn the tape. Shanahan still believes in Witherspoon and that these two games were just outliers of his true talent. Failing to execute due to minor details just proves why Shanahan still does have faith in him. He's not really one to put on airs when it comes to hyping up his players, so it is safe to take his words as face value.
We will learn soon enough whether or not Shanahan was right to put his trust in Witherspoon. The perfect time for redemption will be Sunday when 49ers duke it out with the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC west division title. Witherspoon can easily make everyone forget about his last two poor games if he can hold his own in Seattle. Otherwise, Shanahan will have to revisit whether Moseley isn't the best option as the starter.