Broncos veteran safety Brian Dawkins has been ruled out of Sunday’s Wild Card playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a neck injury.
The 16-year player — who’s been to the playoffs on eight separate occasions — has sat out two of the previous three games and once again the team captain will be leading the team from the sideline.
“It’s kind of hard to put into words (how frustrated Dawkins is) because I know how much this game means to him,” cornerback Andre’ Goodman said. “I know how well he prepares week-in and week-out to get his body ready to play football games. He’s the guy who’s willing to put himself through anything to put himself out there. So I know how frustrated he is and we’re all frustrated for him.”
Head Coach John Fox echoed Goodman’s statement, saying Dawkins is probably more frustrated than any of the players or coaches. But at the end of the day, just as the coaches put the players in positions to succeed, they aren’t going to put players in harmful situations.
“Injury is part of the game, and our responsibility as coaches in this organization is to the well-being of our players,” Fox said. “We’re not going to put them in a position. Brian has been a big part of this season, a big part of this team. Hopefully we can get him well soon.”
With Dawkins out, Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen will look to third-year safety David Bruton to pick up the communication void left by the eight-time Pro Bowler. Bruton played a role last week in limiting Kansas City to just seven points.
“I think one of the things that always helps you in the secondary is having a veteran guy back there that can kind of help in the communication,” Allen said. “We brought David Bruton and played him last week, and that’s kind of what he brought to the table as far as he understood exactly what we were trying to get done. He does a great job of communicating, making sure everybody’s on the same page, and that’s what you’ve got to make sure you’re doing, especially from a secondary standpoint.”
Thursday, Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy spoke at length about the need for the Broncos to limit their turnovers. After having five during their six-game winning streak, they’ve had nine during their last three games.
On a similar note, the Broncos defense hasn’t created any takeaways during the three-game slide. Takeaways were a big part of the Broncos’ success in the middle of the season, as they had nine during the win streak.
“It’s very (important),” Goodman said. “That’s how we’ve been able to win games in terms of keeping the score to a minimum and creating turnovers on defense to set the offense up in good positions. We haven’t done that and the outcome the last few weeks hasn’t been positive, so it’s one of the things going into this game you try to focus on. But it’s easier said than done against a team like Pittsburgh.”
While the Steelers offense has the potential to be prolific at any time, they are not without their faults. The Steelers have turned the ball over seven times in the last three games, so the opportunity could be there for the Broncos.
“I think when you look at any stat in football, the most critical stat is obviously points scored versus points allowed. Right behind that is the ability to take the ball away,” Allen said. “So that’s what we’ve got to find a way to do. We’ve got to do our part on defense, take the ball away, set our offense up with short field and give them an opportunity to score on short fields.”
Here is the full injury report for Sunday’s game.
For the Broncos:
OUT: Safety Brian Dawkins (neck),
DOUBTFUL: Fullback Spencer Larsen (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: Cornerback Johnathan Wilhite (illness), safety David Bruton (Achilles).
PROBABLE: Wide receiver Eddie Royal (toe), linebacker Von Miller (thumb).
For the Steelers:
OUT: Cornerback Cortez Allen (shoulder), running back Mewelde Moore (knee),
QUESTIONABLE: Center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle).
PROBABLE: Tackle Jonathan Scott (back), linebacker James Harrison (toe), defensive end Brett Keisel (groin), safety Troy Polamalu (calf), guard Doug Legursky (shoulder), linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring), quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (ankle).
Below are some photos from Friday’s practice.