ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Last year, the impact of Brian Dawkins’s injuries on the defense was profound, although it went relatively unnoticed because the rest of the team played so poorly in crashing to a 4-12 finish. With Dawkins in the lineup in 2010, the Broncos allowed 123.3 rushing yards per game and 4.08 yards per carry; when he didn’t play, those averages were 223.4 yards per game and 5.70 yards per carry.
Twelve months later, run defense wasn’t as monumentally affected when Dawkins sat out Sunday’s 41-23 loss to the New England Patriots with a neck strain, but the communication in the secondary was.
“We didn’t communicate, we were on different pages and a couple of times we gave up some plays,” Dawkins said. “We’ve got to get back to communicating properly, making sure we’re all on the same page playing football, and whatever happens after that, happens.”
Denver spent most of the game in its nickel package against the air-intensive Patriots, meaning that three rookie defensive backs were thrust into primary roles: safeties Quinton Carter and Rahim Moore and cornerback Chris Harris.
“Yeah. I busted several calls,” Carter admitted after the game Sunday. “When you don’t play smart against a team like that, they take advantage of you.
“We had plays where guys were just left wide open, busted calls and what-not, not getting lined up right,” Carter said. “That had nothing to do with them. That was us. Missing tackles. That’s us.”
The defense was “kind of discombobulated,” admitted cornerback Andre’ Goodman after Sunday’s game. At that time, no wanted to attribute the Broncos’ communication snafus to the absence of Dawkins, although the impact appeared clear.
“Communication is one of the biggest things that he does,” Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said Wednesday. “He’s able to help people get lined up, get into the right defense and checks. Those types of things are invaluable and that’s what experienced players bring for you, and we missed that in the game the other day.”
“All I can do is what I can do when I’m on the sideline, and that’s to tell them what I see coming off the football field (and) get the (still) pictures to see if there’s something I can tell them to help them along in that respect,” Dawkins said Wednesday.
“But for me, it’s much better to be out there communicating with them than on the sideline, because they’re not going to hear me from the sideline yelling checks.”
The Broncos and Dawkins hope that’s not the case Saturday in Buffalo. Dawkins said his recovery from the neck strain is “going in the right direction,” but he has been limited in practice this week.
“Things are feeling better and better, so we’ll see,” Dawkins said.
“I’m not worried about not being out there. I’m going to try my best to be out there.”
But if not, the communication falls back upon rookie safeties Carter and Rahim Moore, who until Sunday had started games, but never at the same time without Dawkins.
“When you have young safeties, they’re going to make mistakes, but the thing is not to make the same mistake over and over again, and those guys are not doing that,” Dawkins said.
But can they communicate as well as the Broncos need if Dawkins can’t play?
“Just being more vocal is, I think, the biggest thing for a young safety,” he said. “When you know what you’re doing, you’re going to speak loud and communicate to everybody. Those are the things that they’re getting better at.”