Last year, the Broncos went to Dallas for practices and a game, and the Cowboys looked very impressive on their way to a 13-3 season. The Broncos trailed 24-6 at halftime of that game last year. Many of their defensive problems were exposed and never got better.
This year was a different story. The team was happy with its workouts against the big, physical Cowboys, and the Broncos dominated the first half of the game when the starters were in. Denver had a 14-0 lead, although a late drive by the Cowboys before halftime made the score 14-7 after one half.
"To go out there and do that against that type of team is definitely encouraging," quarterback Jay Cutler said.
The second preseason game isn't a true measuring stick for any team, but the Broncos played well on offense and defense. Cutler was especially sharp.
Cutler completed his first 12 passes. For the night, he completed 16 of 20 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. He hasn't thrown an interception in 30 preseason passes, and has only six incompletions.
Although Cutler scoffs when he is asked about good performances in the preseason, given the basic schemes on both sides, his game against the Cowboys was impressive.
"I was pleased with the way he played today against an excellent defense," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.
Denver's young offense was good as a whole. The Broncos scored on long drives in each of their first two possessions. The offensive line, which had a tough preseason debut, held up very well against a talented Cowboys front seven.
The defense was in the spotlight too, considering the talent on the other side. But Dallas quarterback Tony Romo didn't lead any scoring drives -- backup Brad Johnson threw a touchdown pass for Dallas' only first-half score.
The run defense, which was third worst in the NFL last season, played well. Marion Barber and Felix Jones each broke an 11-yard run, but Dallas averaged two yards a carry on its other first-half chances.
Through the first two preseason games, the coaching staff has been pleased with the lack of mental mistakes, which was a point of emphasis because the Broncos are learning defensive coordinator Bob Slowik's scheme.
"If you get guys playing together, anything can happen," linebacker Niko Koutouvides said. "We played well tonight."
One preseason game won't matter much once the regular season comes, but the Broncos can feel better about themselves after a very good showing against a Cowboys team that is a clear favorite in the NFC.
"I thought we got better," Shanahan said. CAMP CALENDAR: Camp officially came to an end on Friday. They had two days of joint practices against the Cowboys before the end of camp.
--Receiver Brandon Marshall had some fun with Cowboys cornerback Adam Jones after Jones said Marshall didn't compare to Terrell Owens. Marshall wore signs on the back of his shoulder pads directed at Jones, such as "21's no Champ," referring to Broncos All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey. Jones wears No. 21. Marshall said it was all in fun, and Jones is a friend of his.
"Football to me is like Pop Warner, halftime Pop Tarts and Kool-Aid," Marshall said. "That's all I'm doing is out here having fun."
--Guard Montrae Holland returned to practice after Denver's first preseason game. Holland, a starter last year, reported to camp overweight and wasn't allowed to practice until he got into shape.
"Anytime you miss two weeks of camp, you miss development and timing," Holland said. "Right now, mine is a little off. At least now I'm practicing, so all I can do is get better."
--NFL Films president Steve Sabol said he will probably ask the Broncos to be featured on next year's season of the reality show "Hard Knocks," which chronicles a team in training camp. The Broncos don't often seek out attention like that, and owner Pat Bowlen sounded lukewarm to the idea.
"I'm not averse to it, but I'm not all that into it," Bowlen said.
--The Broncos have to wait and see on the progress of linebacker Boss Bailey's high ankle sprain, which he suffered in the preseason opener. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan couldn't say for sure if Bailey would be ready for the regular-season opener.
"You're hoping, for sure," Shanahan said. "I'm not really sure at this time. High ankle sprains, you don't know. Sometimes they're worse than a broken ankle, other times they're back in a couple weeks. We'll keep our fingers crossed."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "He can be better." -- Former Broncos WR Rod Smith, on the chances that Brandon Marshall could reach the same level of Cowboys WR Terrell Owens.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--CB Tyrone Poole was signed. The Broncos are deep at cornerback but Poole brings a veteran presence and could fight for a roster spot.
--CB Wale Dada was signed by the Broncos after he was let go by New Orleans. Dada has a long road to making the final roster.
--RB Anthony Alridge missed the Broncos' second preseason game with a slight hamstring pull. Alridge is a candidate to make the final roster because of his speed and playmaking ability, but might need to finish the preseason strong.
--FB Peyton Hillis returned from a hamstring injury that cost him most of the first two weeks of camp, but went right back to a significant role behind starting fullback Cecil Sapp. If Hillis finishes the preseason strong, he could have a role in the offense when the regular season begins.
--RB Andre Hall got a couple of chances in short-yardage and goal-line situations against Dallas and did well. He converted a fourth-and-one and had a one-yard touchdown run later. Hall could be the Broncos' goal-line back because Ryan Torain is hurt and Selvin Young isn't very big.
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