ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Brian Dawkins can only watch on Sunday, already ruled out with a neck injury after missing all but one quarter of the last three games because of it.
After missing the playoffs in both of his previous Denver seasons since joining the Broncos from the Philadelphia Eagles via free agency, one could understand if Dawkins was frustrated over the recent turn of events.
“Very,” said cornerback Andre’ Goodman. “It’s kind of hard to put into words because I know how much this game means to him; I know how well he prepares week in and week out to get his body ready to play football games.
“He’s a guy who’s willing to put himself through anything to be out there. So I know how frustrating it is. We’re all frustrated for him.”
But the Broncos have had a chance to prepare for his absence — not just because of the last three weeks.
“We knew,” said safety Quinton Carter. Anytime you take a key person like that out of the formula, it’s always a blow.
“But just having him around like big brother, being a coach, it’s tons of help for myself and David (Bruton).”
Added Broncos coach John Fox: “The game is still played between (the sidelines), but Dawk will be a calming influence no doubt. He’s been there before. He’ll help where he can.”
Monday, he was there for everyone in the locker room, speaking to his teammates after they watched the video of their 7-3 loss to Kansas City a day earlier.
“Whether he’s playing or not, he has that. Dawk is Dawk,” Carter said. “All the years of film and everything speaks for itself.”
We all know what a blow it is not to have him. What other people don’t see looking in is the leadership he has and how he tries to bring us up to his level of play. We all want to be playing great football.”
“Great” is a level the Broncos have rarely attained in the last three weeks, with three losses by a collective 88-40 margin. But the defense has steadily improved, conceding 41 points against New England but improving to 19 points allowed at Buffalo (the offense and special teams accounted for 21 points surrendered) and just seven at New England.
Of particular note is the Broncos’ improvement in the secondary, with communication problems and tackling issues improving drastically between the Dec. 18 loss to New England and the New Year’s Day defeat to Kansas City.
Goodman and fellow cornerback Champ Bailey helped put an end to the communication issues, which against the Patriots led to a “discombobulated” defense, as Goodman put it then.
“They’re young guys, and we’re more experienced,” Goodman said Friday. “It’s part of the job in terms of communication. It’s something you don’t take for granted.”
Rahim Moore started against the Patriots, giving the Broncos a rookie safety duo, but by the Chiefs game, Denver went with a safety combination of Carter and three-year veteran David Bruton, and that helped hold the Chiefs in check most of the afternoon.
“We’ve been getting this chemistry down pat the last couple of weeks, just really being interchangeable at the safeties,” Carter said. “If it’s a different change or anything, we’re interchangeable. We can really put on disguises that way.”
But disguising coverages and attempting to confuse Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will only go so far.
“At the end of the day, this game is going to come down to how well we play as a unit in the secondary,” Goodman said.