By Rich Kurtzman
Injuries to important players at the crucial end of the regular season is reality in the National Football League. The best teams in the league find ways to rally, to overcome those injuries and continue to play well.
Like the Baltimore Ravens for instance, who have missed all-world linebacker Ray Lewis for two months (torn triceps) and Terrell Suggs for two games (torn biceps), yet they are fourth in the AFC at 9-4 overall.
The Broncos have experienced something similar, with running back Knowshon Moreno stepping up to fill the void of Willis McGahee (torn MCL), and they’ll have to do much of the same this week with two starters questionable to play.
Chris Kuper has simply been unlucky this season when it comes to injuries, and his status for the rest of the year remains uncertain. Way back in training camp, Kuper broke his forearm and sat out the first four weeks. More recently, he hurt an ankle in the team’s win over Cincinnati, missed two games, played against Kansas City and Tampa Bay, but was downgraded and sat out again in Denver’s victory in Oakland. Kuper was a limited participant all week, and he’s listed as “questionable” to play this Sunday in Baltimore.
Without him, the Broncos have struggled with keeping quarterback Peyton Manning clean, giving up much more sacks with Manny Ramirez at right guard. Ramirez was directly responsible for two sacks of the Broncos’ quarterback against the Raiders, and the team gave up three in that game of their 19 all season.
Also questionable this week is linebacker Wesley Woodyard. Woodyard injured his ankle during Denver’s win over Tampa Bay and didn’t play against the Raiders, though he says he’ll play this week in Baltimore. If Woodyard can play, it would be a big boost to the Broncos defense as they face one of the top running backs in all of football, Ray Rice. Woodyard leads the Broncos by far in combined tackles with 100, also sacking quarterbacks four times, picking off three passes and defending five more. He’s a dynamic defensive playmaker and Denver needs him on the field Sunday afternoon. If he can’t go, D.J. Williams will likely take his place, as he did against the Raiders. Williams was suspended for the first nine games of the season, but he bounced back and recorded five tackles of his own.
Others listed for Denver are wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (shoulder) and Matt Willis (knee) and return specialist Trindon Holliday (knee); they are all “probable” to play. Thomas banged his shoulder up when plowing through Raiders’ defenders and he would be the biggest loss of the three as Manning’s favorite receiver. Plus, Denver’s receiving corps are thin, with Willis bruised as well as Brandon Stokley, who isn’t listed but battled through a sore wrist and hip to play in Oakland. Holliday is important too, setting his offense up with prime field position all year long.
When the Broncos head to Baltimore this weekend, they better prepare for a battle against one of the most physical teams in the NFL. This game sets up as one featuring smash-mouth football; whichever team plays with more physicality will likely win. That’s good news for Denver too though, because they battered the Raiders last Thursday—injuring their players and controlling the line of scrimmage.
The game kicks off at 11 a.m. MT and will be televised on CBS.
Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (shoulder)
Wide receiver Matt Willis (knee)
Kick returner Trindon Holliday (knee)
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard (ankle)
Right guard Chris Kuper (ankle)
For more Local Football Bloggers and the latest Broncos news, see CBS Sports Denver.
Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.