All 'HOT,' No 'NOTs'

IRVING, Tex. -- If you liked the Cowboys' work in last week's preseason opener against the Colts, you loved Saturday's 31-20 exhibition victory over another AFC power, the Broncos.

We play HOT/NOT for a Dallas team that deserves some homerism right now. … so why even bother with NOTs?

HOT: Remember when D-coordinator Brian Stewart told us he wondered whether the Dallas defense has "s--- in its neck''? One play and one stat says the answer might be "yes'':

The play came from Roy Williams, who attacked the line of scrimmage on a Denver stretch play featuring the talented Travis Henry. Williams wrestled through Henry's nasty stiff-arm and violently horse-collared Henry to the turf. (We still can't figure what is legal and what is not when it comes to the horse-collar; it just seems like good tackling to us.)

The stat came from the first-team Cowboys defense, which did not allow a touchdown for the second straight preseason game. Dallas has, over the course of a handful of quarters, now pitched first-team near-shutouts against the prolific Colts offense and the efficient Broncos offense. The first team worked the full first half and allowed just four first downs – and no first downs on five Denver third-down attempts.

Brian Stewart is getting his wish.

HOT: Time of possession advantage, as it did against the Colts, goes to the Cowboys. Dallas held the ball for 35 minutes while rushing for 190 yards.

HOT: Dallas showed some glimpses of the blitzing style that will be fully employed once the regular season begins. Impressively, though, it didn't represent an "either-or'' choice for the Cowboys here. Because along with the blitz, Dallas limited the first-team Broncos offense to 22 first-half rushing yards on 12 carries. If you can bring an extra guy and still almost completely eliminate a team's running game, you're going something right. Or actually, you're doing TWO somethings right.

HOT: This will be the only Broncos-related observation included here: Denver is a little hot under the collar because the Broncos think the Cowboys' use of the blitz is a violation of a "gentlemen's agreement'' of preseason. There is something to be said for that, but the Cowboys didn't "gameplan'' for Denver, as some are claiming; the Cowboys simply used basic blitz stuff, and did so for their own benefit, not because the had some grand emphasis on beating some team from the other conference in a practice game.

Still, it qualifies as MORE "s--- in their necks.''

HOT: The Cowboys did not commit a penalty in the first half. This after committing just five last week in the opener.

HOT: We suppose it'll become a bit predictable when the quality-control scouts see it, but getting the ball to T.O. to begin every game is still kinda cute. He caught that first-play-of-the-game pass last week against Indy; this week the pass was incomplete. Oh, but those quality-control people will have something else to worry about: Owens also carried on an end-around, gaining nine yards.

HOT: Starting free safety Ken Hamlin has value because his centerfielder skills free Roy Williams to play to his strengths. But Hamlin is also a hitter, and proved it against Travis Henry (again), plugging him on a third-down rushing attempt.

HOT: Top rookie Anthony Spencer demonstrated a nose for the ball, deflecting a pass (that ended up as a completion) and providing some pressure on Denver QB Jay Cutler. The naked eye suggests that Spencer may have missed an assignment or two. But the naked eye can also see that the kid is a playmaker.

HOT: All present and accounted for in the O-line, with starting tackles Flozell Adams and Marc Colombo in the lineup and helping Dallas appear very crisp. There were a couple of turnovers, but they were flukish; Miles Austin slipped on his route to create a Tony Romo interception, and Sam Hurd fumbled following a reception. But otherwise, the 24-first-half points was the result in large part of the effective work of the offensive line.

HOT: More payoffs from the good line play: JuJo and MB3 racking up numbers. The two of them scored three close-in TDs, with starter Jones contributing 31 yards and Marion Barber adding 57. And then came third-teamer Tyson Thompson, who supplemented more good work as a kick returner with his from-scrimmage numbers: 75 yards on 16 carries.

"I think,'' said a voice from the locker room, smiling, "we have a THREE-WAY running back controversy.''

HOT: One more O-line note: Leonard Davis is absolutely mauling people.

HOT: It's worth noting that when either Jones or Barber scored, the other guy was generally among the first to reach him to offer congratulations. More Wade "Family Guy'' Phillips influence?

HOT: Martin Gramatica's kickoffs were good. But he missed a 51-yard field goal. Rookie Nick Folk also reached the end zone on a pair of kickoffs and he made his 52-yarder – which came with the pressure of just seconds left in the first half. They're "only'' kickers. But suddenly this is one of the few front-line job battles remaining this summer.

HOT: We had an Isaiah Stanback sighting! The foot issue has kept him from showing his wares all summer, but the rookie, converting from college QB to wide receiver, caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter that puts him back on the roster map.

HOT: Tony Romo (11-of-18 passes for 122 yards) said something interesting after the game, saying that while success in the preseason doesn't guarantee success in the regular season, preseason failure can be a precursor to regular-season failure. He's dead-on. The Cowboys are 2-0 in practice games, which means nothing. … unless you compare it to what being 1-1 or 0-2 would mean.

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