The Pittsburgh Steelers benched Ahkello Witherspoon against the Eagles. Here’s why their cornerback room looks so discouraging moving forward.
On Sunday afternoon, I witnessed one of the most disgraceful football games I’ve ever seen the Pittsburgh Steelers play. I knew that the Philadelphia Eagles were going to give them problems, and I didn’t even believe Mike Tomlin’s team would cover the 10.5-point spread. However, the contest proved to be far worse than I even predicted.
Though I assumed the offense was really going to struggle in Week 8, one thing I really wanted to see against the Eagles was a defensive performance that proved that this unit could get back on top soon. Sadly, Pittsburgh’s defense couldn’t have looked much worse.
In his first game back from a hamstring injury that left him sidelined since Week 3, Steelers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon returned to the field. However, it didn’t take long for him to get utterly embarrassed by Eagles WR A.J. Brown. In the first half, Witherspoon gave up two massive touchdowns along the sideline to the star receiver that no doubt resulted in him being benched for backup CB, James Pierre.
Before leaving the game, Witherspoon allowed a passer rating of 144.3 — allowing 7 of 8 catches for 73 yards and 2 touchdowns. Though he did have decent coverage on the two deep completions he allowed, he failed to make a play on the football. These scores proved to be huge as the Eagles quickly jumped out in front with a 21-7 lead — one that a lackluster offense certainly could not overcome.
Steelers have major issues at cornerback
In all honesty, I was encouraged by what I saw from Witherspoon late down the stretch of the 2021 season. It seemed like he was finally getting it and that he was going to be Pittsburgh’s top boundary cornerback. Sadly, the fact that Mike Tomlin benched Witherspoon means that he probably won’t be part of the plan moving forward. This is a blow for a team hoping to catch a break at the position.
In just four games so far this season, things couldn’t have gone much worse for Witherspoon, and he really needed to be good for Pittsburgh’s defense to stand a shot at being one of the better units in the league.
Witherspoon is the only Steelers cornerback with quality athletic traits. Coming out of Colorado in 2017, he ran a 4.45 to go with a 40.5” vertical and 127” broad jump, via Mockdraftable.com. Combine this with the fact that Ahkello is 6’3” with 33” arms, and he’s the only CB on the team with a respectable combination of size and length.
Now that Witherspoon might be out of favor with the team, the Steelers project to have a pair of cornerbacks with 4.6-speed starting on the outside in nickel in Levi Wallace and James Pierre. Likewise, Cameron Sutton is undersized with below-average athletic traits (though he typically makes up for it with tremendous instincts and a great feel for the game).
As it stands, the Steelers, statistically, will have the slowest starting nickel cornerbacks in the NFL. This could prove to be disastrous when they face faster receivers. At the end of the day, however, there’s nobody to blame but themselves for getting into the situation they are in right now. Pittsburgh simply has not valued the CB position and it has come back to bite them.