Houston Texans running back David Johnson (31) gets past Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden (23) to score a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook runs from Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Kamalei Correa (40) during a 39-yard touchdown run in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)
HOUSTON (AP) Dalvin Cook could be due for a big game Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings visit the Houston Texans in a matchup of winless teams.
Cook ranks third in the NFL in yards rushing after running for a career-high 181 yards last week in a loss to Tennessee. Houston (0-3) has the worst run defense in the NFL, allowing a whopping 188.3 yards rushing a game this season.
''It's a very, very difficult challenge,'' Houston coach Bill O'Brien said. ''We're going to have to do a good job of fundamental football. Setting the edge, playing good gap control and then tackling. If he gets into the secondary or gets around the edge, he's got great speed so you're going to have an issue.''
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer has been impressed with Cook's work this season.
''Dalvin's great,'' Zimmer said. ''All backs are a little bit different, but I think Dalvin has such great feet. The way he can sliver through a hole, the way he can catch the ball. The way ... for a smaller size guy, he runs with power and determination. If he gets in the open field, he's a really tough, tough guy to get tackled.''
The Texans have not only had trouble stopping the run this year, they've also been unable to run the ball effectively. Houston ranks 31st in the NFL in yards rushing with just 66 a game. They had 118 yards rushing in their opener when David Johnson ran for 77 yards, but have managed just 80 yards combined in the past two games to tumble to the bottom of the league.
The Texans received Johnson in the trade with Arizona for DeAndre Hopkins and hoped he could get going to lead their running game this season after a tough year in 2019 when he managed just 345 yards rushing.
Instead he's been unable to do much of anything since the opener and averaged just 1.77 yards a carry last week as Houston failed to score after halftime in a 28-21 loss to the Steelers.
As these teams both search for their first win, players from Minnesota and Houston insist there isn't any panic, but instead a determination to do more to turn things around.
''You just get to work,'' Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said. ''This isn't the first time anybody on this team has faced adversity, so you just go right back to work, keep your head down and embrace the grind.''
Added Houston defensive end J.J. Watt: ''If whatever you're doing at the moment's not working, work harder. So, that's what I'm doing. That's what we're doing. We're looking forward to it paying dividends.''
The Vikings had to close their facility on Tuesday and Wednesday after the Titans reported multiple positive tests for COVID-19, including players who played in the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. Instead of conducting a normal practice on Wednesday, typically the most important day of the week when specific aspects of game plan for the upcoming opponent are installed, coaches and players participated virtually from their homes. Just like in May and June when the virus outbreak prevented teams from gathering.
''We were able to communicate and really watch tape on our iPads. That wasn't too bad, honestly. Probably if we weren't able to do it in the spring, it would have been a lot more hectic than it was,'' Zimmer said. ''We're going to try and get in everything that we normally get in.''
When the Vikings visit on Sunday, they'll bring with them the first two men who coached the Texans in senior defensive assistant Dom Capers and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Capers was the first coach in franchise history and coached the Texans for their first four years before he was let go after the 2005 season. Kubiak took over after Capers and remained with the team until he was fired after 13 games in 2013. O'Brien took over the next season after Wade Phillips finished out the 2013 season as interim coach.
''I think they probably need to get a picture of that, the three of us on the field at the same time on Sunday,'' O'Brien said.
Zimmer spoke at length about his affinity for all three men.
''In my opinion they've been very fortunate to have those three guys coaching for that franchise,'' Zimmer said.
The Vikings had 464 yards in their loss to Tennessee, nearly tripling their output from the 28-11 loss at Indianapolis on Sept. 20. Cook was again the catalyst with his huge game, but rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson gave the unit a vital boost with seven catches for 175 yards and a touchdown. The emergence of the first-round draft pick from LSU was just what Cousins needed - a dynamic complement to wide receiver Adam Thielen who can help keep defenses from selling out to stop Cook.
''It just shows the playmakers we have in this offense,'' Thielen said. We've talked about it all training camp, going into these first couple weeks of these season, talked about all these guys that can make plays. You kind of saw a glimpse of that on Sunday. We're going to continue to have guys step up and make plays in big situations.''
Five Hot Plays: Week 8
New York Jets running back Frank Gore has seen a significant role in the backfield this season. The departure of Le'Veon Bell has opened up lead back duties for Gore over the last few weeks. Sadly, the Jets offensive line and team as a whole is horrible this season. Gore has done what he can, but will likely see his role decrease going forward. Head coach Adam Gase wants to see La'Mical Perine more involved in the offense. That means, Gore is going to be a tough option to trust versus the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold showed no signs of life during the loss to the Buffalo Bills last week. Darnold returned after a two-game absence, but was torn apart by the Bills Defense in Week 7. He finished with 120 passing yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss. To be fair, Darnold doesn't have many weapons on the Jets, but his play under center has been difficult to watch. It won't get any easier for Darnold as he'll face off with the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8. A secondary that has allowed the ninth fewest amount of fantasy points to quarterbacks this season. There is no reason to start Darnold unless you absolutely have no other options. Hopefully Ben DiNucci is available because he's a better fantasy option this week than Darnold.
During the second quarter, Calvin Ridley was tackled from behind and immediately grabbed his left foot. Common injuries in the foot and ankle include lateral ankle sprains, high ankle sprains, mid-foot sprains, and turf toe. His status to return to the game is unknown at this time but considering this is a divisional game, the Falcons will do everything in their power to get him back on the field. His practice availability leading into Week 9 will be worth monitoring.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Gabriel Davis has put together a few decent performance this season. Sadly, his production has been inconsistent and it's tough to predict when he's going to see a significant role in the offense. Last week, Davis saw three targets and caught one of them for 11 yards in the victory over the New York Jets. Davis is not expected to be a reliable streaming option against the top-10 secondary of the New England Patriots in Week 8. Fantasy owners might be able to use him as a low-end desperation deep league option, but that's about it.
The Seattle Seahawks will have a running back active Sunday versus San Francisco, although whether it's any of the trio of Chris Carson (foot), Carlos Hyde (hamstring), or Travis Homer (knee) remains to be seen. None of the aforementioned trio practiced in any capacity Thursday, furthering the notion that DeeJay Dallas may be heavily relied upon for the game versus the 49ers. Of the three, Carson seems the most likely to miss the contest after initially being deemed week-to-week with a foot injury. Should Hyde or Homer suit up (with the other being ruled out), they'd immediately garner RB2/Flex intrigue due to the lack of depth in the Seattle backfield. Check back over the coming days to get a better idea of how the Seahawks' backfield woes will shake out.
Indianapolis Colts tight end Trey Burton has emerged as a legitimate weapon over the past two games. Over the last two games, he has nine catches for 91 yards and a touchdown on 11 total targets. However, he is matching up against a Lions Defense that ranks second against opposing tight ends. Burton is also sharing snaps with Jack Doyle, but Burton is seeing many more targets in the passing game. The Lions have one of the worst run defenses in the league, so there's a chance that the Colts will not have a heavy passing attack unless they get behind early. Burton has been productive, but all this data points to him having some bust potential this week. He may have TE2 or flex potential, but he is certainly a risky play.
Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones (groin) was able to record a full practice session Thursday, a likely sign that he'll ultimately be given the green light to play Sunday against the Jets. The Chiefs Defense was already in a golden spot even with Jones' availability up in the air, but having the reigning Pro Bowler patrolling the line only enhances their value. Having accrued 21 tackles, nine quarterback hits, and 4.5 sacks in six games, Jones' presence should wreak havoc against a Jets offense that has struggled to muster much lightning in 2020. Despite Kansas City's struggles at stopping the run (149.9 yards per game) this year, they should be rostered in all season-long leagues on a streamer basis with the news of Jones likely being in the mix.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (COVID-19) will be absent from Sunday's contest versus Chicago, marking his second consecutive game out of the mix. Prior to hitting the COVID-19 list, Sanders reeled off his best performance of the year with a 12-catch, 122-yard outing versus the Chargers, with his absence creating an opening in the WR ranks for the Saints. With Michael Thomas (hamstring) returning to practice Thursday, New Orleans may have some reinforcements against a stout Bears Defense, but Sanders' next chance to return to action comes next Sunday against Tampa Bay. The nature of the virus puts Sanders' availability up in the air, so check back for updates on his status as they emerge.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been unreliable so far this season, so it may be difficult to insert him in a fantasy lineup against the Lions this week. Philip Rivers threw the ball for over 370 yards in Week 6 against the Bengals, but Hilton caught just one pass for 11 yards. He has just one game all season with more than five catches. He also has not been able to salvage any poor fantasy days by finding the end zone. Rivers seems to have a new receiving option he likes to go to every week, so it has been incredibly difficult to find any bright spots for Hilton. It is hard to consider him a fringe flex option at this point, so he is probably best suited on the bench in Week 8.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (ribs) and wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip/ribs) were both limited during practice Thursday, marking the second consecutive day that their workload was managed. Despite the limited practice time, there's no reason to believe that either is in danger of not suiting up Sunday against the Raiders for what should be an advantageous matchup for both. With Nick Chubb (knee) still out of the equation, Hunt should remain the bell cow out of the backfield, while Landry should see an increase in targets in the wake of Odell Beckham Jr.'s (knee) season-ending knee injury. Check back prior to kickoff Sunday just to make sure that both eventually get the green light, but something would have to go sideways over the coming days for either to be held out.
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor will have a great opportunity to put up a good fantasy performance against the Lions this week. The Lions rank 30th against opposing running backs, and Taylor continues to improve on his yards per carry. The Lions Defense is giving up 4.5 yards per carry and have surrendered nine rushing touchdowns so far this season. Taylor is averaging 16 carries per game since being name the starter, and he has picked up three rushing touchdowns in those five games. He has mostly put up respectable fantasy performances, and he should be able to again this week. Taylor is a must-start option in Week 8.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jalen Reagor (thumb) is in line to play Sunday against Dallas, making his first appearance since Week 2. Reagor sustained a torn UCL in his right thumb, but is expected to revamp the team's wide receiving corps after losing DeSean Jackson (ankle) to injured reserve. Taken with the team's first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, Reagor combined to make five catches for 96 yards in his first two games, logging 60 snaps in his final outing before hitting IR. With limited consistent options in the passing game for Carson Wentz to target, Reagor carries WR3/Flex potential this Sunday, especially when considering his matchup against an exploitable Cowboys secondary.
Green Bay Packers kicker Mason Crosby (calf/back) was held out of practice Thursday for the second consecutive day, a worrisome note that may force Green Bay to get creative Sunday against Minnesota. Crosby has been the team's kicker for every game since Week 1 of the 2007 season, continuing to excel this year while going 9-for-9 on field-goal attempts. Special teams coach Shawn Mennenga is confident that he'll have Crosby at his disposal, but even if that's the case, current weather projections have the wind gusts in Green Bay expected to approach 40 MPH. The combination of injury concerns and bad weather opens the door for season-long fantasy managers to consider another placekicking option Sunday despite Crosby's sustained excellence.
Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay (concussion) was able to practice in a limited capacity Thursday, leaving the door open that he could be cleared from the league's concussion protocol in time to suit up Sunday against the Chargers. Lindsay has reclaimed his prior form over his last two games, having compiled 180 yards rushing on 32 carries. The return of Melvin Gordon III is sure to complicate Denver's backfield situation moving forward, but when given the green light, Lindsay holds RB2/Flex appeal due to past success. With that being said, his matchup Sunday against a Chargers Defense that has allowed just one rushing touchdown all year -- when combined with his injury -- makes for an avoidable DFS spot. Check back to get updates on Lindsay's status as they become available.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers will face off against the Lions in Week 8. Rivers is coming off his best performance of the season against the Bengals, but he will likely to revert back to what he was prior to Week 6. The Lions Defense has actually been fairly good against the pass, currently ranking ninth against opposing quarterbacks. They are allowing less than two passing touchdowns per game, and opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of just 94. Week 6 was the only game of the year where Rivers threw multiple touchdown passes, and that is largely due to them falling behind early. Fantasy owners can feel comfortable with Rivers on the bench this week.
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard (groin) is moving in the right direction as it pertains suiting up Sunday versus Detroit, as he was a full practice participant Thursday. Leonard has been out of the mix for the past two games due to a groin ailment, but the Colts Defense has still soared out into elite company through its first six games. In the three full contests that he has appeared this season, Leonard already has two double-digit tackle efforts, while also having defended two passes. Having led the NFL in tackles as a rookie in 2018 before being named an All-Pro last year in just 13 games, Leonard's addition to the Colts linebacking core makes them an even more vaunted unit moving forward.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee (hand) was limited again at practice Thursday as he works his way back from a hand contusion that kept him out of the team's game Monday. The short week may prove problematic for Higbee, with an early Sunday start time against Miami on the horizon. In his absence, Gerald Everett (illness) secured his first touchdown of 2020, but he has also been tagged as questionable due to an illness. While Higbee has been consistent when on the field, his three-reception, 37-yard average leaves much to be desired from where many fantasy managers thought his production could be. If he does play Sunday, it sounds as if he'll still be nursing the injury, at best. Check back for the final word on his condition over the coming days.
Tennessee Titans LB Jadeveon Clowney (knee), CB Kristian Fulton (knee), CB Johnathan Joseph (illness), OT Dennis Kelly (knee) and C Daniel Munyer (hand) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 29. S Dane Cruikshank (groin) and CB Tye Smith (shoulder) were limited during practice. DT Jeffery Simmons (non-injury) fully participated in practice.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (shoulder) was able to practice in full Thursday, an indication that he's ready to play Sunday against Kansas City with no remaining injury concerns. Darnold was able to suit up last Sunday, but it led to a rocky 12-for-23 performance that included two interceptions. While the Jets' offense is incrementally more reliable with Darnold under center as opposed to Joe Flacco, there's still little reason to fade away from the Chiefs Defense in both season-long and DFS formats. New York's offensive line has given Darnold very little time to make much happen in the passing game, making him a difficult QB to roster, even in two-QB leagues. Barring a significant setback, expect Darnold to be the starting signal caller Sunday.
Green Bay Packers CB Kevin King (quadriceps) and TE Marcedes Lewis (knee) did not participate in practice Thursday, Oct. 29. OT David Bakhtiari (chest), LB Krys Barnes (biceps, shoulder), LS Hunter Bradley (groin), RB Tyler Ervin (wrist), LB Rashan Gary (ankle), S Raven Greene (oblique), DT Tyler Lancaster (shoulder), TE John Lovett (knee), LB Kamal Martin (knee), S Darnell Savage (quadriceps), LB Preston Smith (shoulder), LB Za'Darius Smith (ankle) and WR Equanimeous St. Brown (knee) were limited during practice. CB Jaire Alexander (hand, knee) fully participated in practice.