Preseason Opener: Who's Hot? Who's Not?

IRVING, Tex. -- Let's expand our "Hot/Not'' format to cover the Cowboys' preseason-opening 23-10 home win over the defending Super Bowl champion Colts on Thursday by starting with the Hottest thing of all: The Texas Stadium vibe.

Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett, in their Cowboys coaching debuts, were all smiles and backpats – even during the game. Dallas avoided turnovers and limited penalties. The injury report isn't lengthy. Peyton Manning's first-team offense managed just three points. The Cowboys controlled time of possession. Heck, you want feel-good? The FOX telecast featured analyst Troy Aikman, who sat in a booth positioned directly above the Ring of Honor entry that reads. … "TROY AIKMAN.''

All was right with the Cowboy world as the Hots greatly outnumber the Nots:

HOT: Dallas' defense against the hurry-up. Indy brought in its vaunted no-huddle offense but managed just the early field goal and then a late-game touchdown against backups. The Cowboys' showing was impressive, especially given how the Colts usually dictate pace. "They don't let you substitute," Phillips said. "That made it tough at the first of the game with Manning in there, but I thought we rose up when we needed to and made them kick a long field goal. I was pleased overall.''

NOT: The tackle situation. It will hopefully clear up next week with the healthy returns of Flozell Adams and Marc Columbo, but at this moment, there is concern because rookie Doug Free sprained his right knee. Free, the fourth-round pick, left the game shortly after taking a start at left tackle.

HOT: Backup safety Keith Davis. A lot has changed in a year. He's no longer in any immediate danger of getting shot. And he's no longer a starter. But Ken Hamlin's backup continued his fine summer by intercepting a third-quarter pass and returning it 41 yards for a TD and a 13-3 Dallas lead.

HOT: Multiple offensive weapons. Observers sometimes make too much of a QB's ability to "spread it around''; what difference does it make if two receivers each catch three passes or six receivers each catch one? But it was nevertheless encouraging to witness Dallas' multi-faceted offense flex its muscles against a real live opponent. From Terrell Owens (who caught the first pass of the game for an eight-yard gain) to Anthony Fasano (who was bullish in moving downfield) to Julius Jones (the starter at running back) and Marion Barber, the Cowboys certainly seem to have a lot of arrows in their quiver.

Said Owens: "I envision myself getting a lot of catches early and often. But as you saw throughout the course of the game, the ball was distributed well.''

NOT: The idea of "T.O. vs. Somebody.'' Folks, we know the world anticipates a problem. We know maybe Owens has earned some of the cynicism. But the Cowboys – Romo, Wade, Jerry, Jason – are handling Terrell just right. If you saw Tony and T.O. talking on the sidelines, it simply felt nothing like Donovan and T.O. on the sidelines. There is no problem in sight.

HOT: Remi Ayodele. Actually, we don't know that he's "hot.'' We just know that he got the second-team work at nose tackle behind Jason Ferguson, and that the first-year player appeared to survive the experience. And at this position right now, that's more than we've seen all month.

HOT: The tight end. All those curls run over and over and over again in the Alamodome weren't just safety-valve routes; as we saw Thursday, intermediate passes to the tight end are a foundation piece of this offense.

HOT: Alex Obomese. You want a defender who goes wherever the ball is? Alex O was your man.

NOT: Brad Johnson. Again.

HOT: Matt Moore. And no, we're not suggesting the kid should leapfrog the old man on the depth chart. We're just saying. …

HOT: The passing of the QB torch. Aikman raved about Garrett, as you might expect. Less expected: The obvious chemistry between the new O-coordinator and his quarterback Romo. Moments before the game, they were joshin' and hand-shakin' and grinnin' and they came across like a couple of guys who'd known each other for years, who've enjoyed each other's company for years. … and who might enjoy each other's company for years to come.

Does somebody need to belittle Romo, to whip his ass, to get him to perform? His two possessions, resulting in a 15-play drive and a 13-play drive, plus his numbers (10 of 11 passes for 97 yards and a QB rating of 103.4) suggest that hugs and handshakes and smiles might work just as well.

NOT: Joe Buck is said to be one of the best in the business, but the FOX play-by-play guy was trying to serve too many masters in his coverage. While saying nothing but nice things about the present Cowboys management (and even nice things about Terrell Owens and his "100-miles-per-hour work ethic) he made sure to note that former coach Bill Parcells was "a good guy.''

HOT: Junior Glymph, for the second straight year this team's Mr. August.

HOT: No turnovers? And just five penalties for 40 yards? In a first preseason game? Almost unheard of. Said Phillips: "We didn't have any turnovers, I thought that was important. And we didn't have many penalties. So those two things were real positive for us."

HOT: Backup cornerback Joey Thomas. His man coverage jumped out at anybody who watched the first days of camp, and the veteran street free agent did it again in a game, his end-zone interception in the fourth quarter preventing a possible Indy touchdown. Based on merit, Thomas is earning a roster spot.

HOT: Kickers Martin Gramatica and Nick Folk. No real separation yet, each guy making his field goals (two for Martin, one for rookie Nick). Joe Buck pointed out that Gramatica has been especially good at kickoffs during training camp, which WOULD be a separation. … except it ain't true.

To Gramatica's credit, though, in the game his kickoffs were solid goal-line reachers. Martin said something after the game about the fine work he's been doing in the weight room. Or something like that.

HOT: Third-string tight end Tony Curtis. We've been waiting all camp for one of the "other'' tight ends to do something to win a job. Curtis did something, with three catches for 58 yards on a late TD drive.

HOT: Tyson Thompson. We've said all along that if he does anything at all as a running back he's got to stick. He did something here, supplementing his blazing speed with some gritty carries.

HOT: The Ghost of Norv Turner. Or whomever it was who was running Dallas' offense. Seriously, we're not sure what Garrett skeptics thought was going to happen in his debut; did they think Jason would stumble and stutter like a middle-schooler asking a girl for a date?

HOT: That time-of-possession thing. Dallas ate up almost the entire first quarter – and how better to control the Colts than to control the ball? The Cowboys finished with a 37:06 time of possession, a real reflection of the offensive line's solid work.

HOT: Leonard Davis. OK, maybe there are some things the massive guard cannot do. But run-block on third-and-short? That he can do.

NOT: Kickoff coverage. This is certainly an "it's-too-early'' thing, because the guys covering kickoffs in this game might not even be NFL players. But Dallas did allow a 37-yarder to T.J. Rushing and a 40-yarder to Craphonso Thorpe.

NOT: Parents trying to be clever in naming their babies. "T.J. Rushing''? What a cool name for an NFL ball-carrier. "Craphonso Thorpe''? Mamas, let your babies grow up to be Cowboys or Colts. … but please do so without naming them "Craphonso,'' OK?

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