Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden listens to questions during a news conference at the end of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Oakland, Calif. Kansas City won the game 28-10. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden stands on the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Oakland, Calif. Kansas City won the game 28-10. (AP Photo/D. Ross Cameron)
Minnesota Vikings' Kirk Cousins throws during the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer)
Minnesota Vikings' Kirk Cousins throws as he falls during the second half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Minnesota Vikings' Kirk Cousins fumbles as he is hit during the first half of an NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, in Green Bay, Wis. The Packers recovered the fumble. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) During his nine-year hiatus from the NFL sideline, Jon Gruden evaluated players like he was still a coach, drawing particular attention as an analyst for ESPN for his one-on-one film breakdowns with quarterback prospects entering the draft.
Kirk Cousins was one of those pupils. Though only a fourth-round pick by Washington in 2012, the eighth player selected at his position that spring, Cousins made a clear impression on Gruden with his attention to detail and ability to communicate. Gruden even remarked at the end of that episode that perhaps he'd get back in the game to coach him.
Well, this week, Gruden and the Oakland Raiders have been scheming against Cousins, who will try to bounce back for the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday from one of the worst performances as a pro.
''He works hard at football. He's had a lot of production,'' said Gruden, who took over as coach of the Raiders last season. ''Hopefully we can find a way to slow him down and win a football game.''
That's what Green Bay did last weekend, when Cousins posted the second-worst completion percentage of his career and committed three turnovers in a 21-16 defeat. The comeback bid was waylaid by a first-and-goal interception in the end zone, an off-balance throw he said afterward he should've sent to the seats. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer expressed anew the team's confidence in Cousins, who's in the second season of a three-year, $84 million, fully guaranteed contract.
''You've got to play well to earn peoples' confidence, so if he's saying that, it's because he's seen practice reps, he's seen game reps, he's seen what we're capable of as an offense throwing the football,'' Cousins said. ''So you've got to go out and earn it. Believe me, I'm not going to be playing quarterback here if I go out and play the way I did this past Sunday for much longer. So I understand that, and I look forward to getting out there and playing at a much higher level.''
Here are some other angles to follow on Sunday:
The Raiders (1-1) have begun this week a whopping 48-day stretch without a game at the Oakland Coliseum. After visiting the Vikings, the Raiders will travel to Indianapolis, then London for a ''home'' game against Chicago. After their bye week, they go back on the road to play Green Bay and Houston. The Raiders won't play in Oakland again until Nov. 3 against Detroit.
''We're still trying to understand how that happened, but we're going to have to deal with it,'' said Gruden, whose team went 1-7 on the road last year. ''We've just got to showcase our mental toughness and deal with it. It's uncommon, maybe unprecedented, maybe unrealistic that this should ever happen in pro football. I'm not excited about it, but we'll adapt and do it the best we can.''
The Raiders will get a boost on the offensive line this week when left guard Richie Incognito makes his debut for the team. The four-time Pro Bowl pick missed the first two games, while suspended for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He's eager as ever to see the field for the first time since a Jan. 7, 2018, playoff game with Buffalo. Incognito did not play at all last season.
''All the negative stuff is behind me. Just eyes forward, staying positive,'' he said. ''Relishing the opportunity, enjoying every day in here because you don't know how many more you're going to have.''
Another talented veteran with a troubled past who joined the Raiders this year, linebacker Vontaze Burfict, is well-known to Zimmer, who was the defensive coordinator for Cincinnati during his first three NFL seasons. Burfict has been repeatedly fined and suspended by the league throughout his career for late, violent hits.
''He knows the defense as well as anybody, probably as well as I do. He's very instinctive. He's very athletic. He reads things extremely quick, and he's a thumper,'' Zimmer said. ''We better make sure the officials know he has to play clean.''
Gruden wasn't having that.
''Burfict's played for us for two games. He hasn't had any penalties. So I don't know about all that,'' Gruden said. ''He's had a bulls-eye on him in his career in Cincinnati, and I'm sure the referees are looking out for him. I don't think the refs need any more help than they already have.''
The Vikings, though, were prepared to keep their head on a swivel when catching a pass in traffic.
''We've all lost our emotions at times, or what have you, so I think he's learned from that stuff, and I think he's been a pretty clean football player recently,'' wide receiver Adam Thielen said.
FAST START, SLOW FINISH
The Raiders have made a bad habit in one-plus season under Gruden of stalling by the offense after fast starts. They're tied for fifth in the NFL with an average of 2.83 points per drive on their first possession since the start of 2018, but that production has dropped to barely half of that over the rest of the game, with an average of 1.46 points per drive following their opening possession. Last week against Kansas City, Oakland had 10 points after two drives but didn't score the rest of the game.
''We've always been able to start fast, which is good, and hopefully we can do that again this week but then maintain it and then cut out the penalties,'' quarterback Derek Carr said.
The Vikings, with Dalvin Cook leading the NFL in rushing, aren't the only team in this pass-favored league that's content to keep the ball on the ground. Rookie Josh Jacobs, one of three first-round draft picks by the Raiders, has 184 rushing yards, fourth in the NFL.
''He runs hard, for sure,'' Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen said. ''He has the quickness to get the ball outside and cut it outside quick. He's a downhill runner, and he can make the big play.''
New York Jets wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has a rough matchup Monday against a Patriots Defense that allows the fewest fantasy points against to opposing wide receivers. Thomas got five targets last week, so he's been getting more involved in the offense, but is still not seeing the type of target share to warrant consideration in standard-size fantasy leagues. Thomas got five targets last week but is the clear third option behind Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder and won't carry much fantasy appeal as long as those other two are healthy.
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder will face a tough test Monday when the Patriots No. 1 ranked pass defense comes to town. New England allows the fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers and shut down Crowder in Week 3 when they held him to only 25 yards on two catches. Third-string quarterback Luke Falk started that game, so Crowder should have more success with Sam Darnold back under center. In two games with Darnold, Crowder has 20 catches for 197 yards, so he has major fantasy upside moving forward, especially as the Jets' schedule gets softer. In Week 7, however, Crowder is only a borderline WR3 who has more appeal in PPR formats.
New York Jets Le'Veon Bell will face a tough matchup Monday night when the Patriots elite defense heads to MetLife Stadium. New England allows the second-fewest fantasy points to opposing running backs so it's a tough matchup for Bell, but he should put up RB2 numbers based on volume. Bell has played 92.2 percent of the team's offensive snaps so far and has the second-most targets on the team. Bell should see his usual 20-25 touches and fantasy owners should start him with confidence he can put up a decent day even if he doesn't score a touchdown.
New York Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson will look to change his fortunes against the Patriots in a tough matchup Monday. In seven career games against New England, Anderson hasn't scored a touchdown and his 39.5 percent catch rate is by far his lowest mark against any team he's faced more than once. This season, the Patriots are as daunting a matchup as there is in the NFL allowing the fewest fantasy points against to wide receivers. There is always the chance Anderson grabs a long touchdown, like the 92-yard score he had last week, so he has some appeal as a flex in deeper leagues. However, where possible, owners should look to steer clear of Anderson in this matchup.
New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold will face a tough challenge Monday night against the Patriots, the team that has given up the fewest fantasy points this season to opposing quarterbacks. Darnold, who missed three games with mono, had a strong showing in his return to the field Sunday when he put up 338 yards and two touchdowns. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect that type of performance Monday against arguably the best defense in the NFL, especially with two starters on the offensive line unlikely to play. Darnold is best left on the bench this week, however, the Jets schedule gets very soft after the game vs New England so Darnold is a good bench stash for those matchups.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant (hamstring) and cornerback Xavien Howard (knee) were limited in practice this week and are questionable for Week 7 against the Bills. Even if Grant plays this weekend, he's nowhere close to being fantasy relevant behind Devante Parker, Preston Williams and Albert Wilson on the depth chart. Grant has only nine catches (19 targets) for 52 scoreless yards in four games this year. Howard is the team's best cornerback, but the Dolphins Defense/special teams is also well off the fantasy radar. If Howard sits, it'll be good news for Bills wideout John Brown.
Jacksonville Jaguars rookie tight end Josh Oliver (hamstring) practiced in full the last two days and isn't on the Week 7 injury report against the Bengals. Oliver has yet to play in his rookie season, but this weekend would be good timing for him to make his debut with Geoff Swaim out and James O'Shaughnessy on Injured Reserve. There's no guarantee that Oliver is heavily involved in the offense in his first game, but he's one to watch for those that are desperate at the position.
Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle) was limited in practice on Friday and was removed from the Week 7 injury report against the Raiders. With Davante Adams (toe) out, Geronimo Allison (concussion) doubtful and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (ankle, knee) questionable, Graham could see his biggest workload of the season this weekend. The Packers will continue to lean on the running game with their receivers beat up, but Graham could easily be quarterback Aaron Rodgers' favorite target against Oakland. The Raiders have also allowed the sixth most fantasy points per game (9.7) to tight ends. Graham has clear WR1 upside in Week 7.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison (chest, concussion) missed practice all week and is doubtful to play in Week 7 against the Raiders. The Packers are holding out hope that Allison can get cleared from the concussion protocol, but it doesn't look like it's happening. Davante Adams (toe) has already been ruled out and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (ankle, knee) will be a game-time decision. Green Bay could be without their top three wideouts, so Jake Kumerow, Allen Lazard and rookie Darrius Shepherd could be their three receivers on Sunday. Kumerow and Lazard will be in play as DFS sleepers and flex options in deeper leagues, but expect the Packers to lean heavily on their ground game.
Los Angeles Chargers kicker Michael Badgley (groin) practiced in full the last two days and is listed as questionable for Week 7 against the Titans. Badgley has been out all season but looks to have a good chance to make his season debut on the road in Tennessee. As usual, the Bolts have had a nightmare on special teams in the kicking game this year and were using their punter, Ty Long, for field-goal duties earlier this year with Badgley sidelined. They've been using rookie Chase McLaughlin in recent weeks, but he's predictably been unreliable in the kicking game. The Chargers will give Badgley a shot to win his job back, but he should be avoided in fantasy for the time being if he's active.
Following two straight close losses, the Jacksonville Jaguars enter their contest against the Cincinnati Bengals needing a victory to remain in AFC playoff conversation. At the crux of securing that win will be their defensive unit, which has been largely hit or miss over the first six weeks of the year. Despite All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey being shipped to the Los Angeles Rams earlier in the week, the team has become accustomed to playing without him. While many owners may overreact to Ramseys departure, Jacksonville is coming off holding New Orleans to 13 points last week, and now squares off with a much-maligned Bengals offense. Andy Dalton and the rest of the offensive unit are averaging just 16.2 points per game and their 56.5 average rushing yards per contest enters the week as the lowest in the league. The Jaguars defense is not the same dominant group that has been in years past, but should be a serviceable fantasy unit in Week 7.
Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell Henderson could have some luster as a flex option against the Atlanta Falcons. Running back Malcolm Brown (ankle) is doubtful this week, but Todd Gurley (thigh) is expected back. Gurley's workload could be spotty, and Henderson could see extended run. He rushed six times for 39 yards in Week 6, but he lost a key fumble to open the second half. He'll have a chance at redemption against the midrange matchup.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks has been irrelevant for a couple of weeks for fantasy owners. He left the Oct. 3 game with a concussion, and the entire Rams offense was plugged up last week. He had four catches for 47 yards in the two games combined. He has an awesome matchup against the Atlanta Falcons this week. They are the worst at defending the position in the league. They've allowed just over 15 catches for 219 yards and nearly two touchdowns per game to receivers over the last five games. Cooks is a low-end WR2 option for Week 7.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp broke a four-game string with 100 receiving yards last week as the entire offense was shut down by the San Francisco 49ers. The good news, though, is the Rams face the leaky Atlanta Falcons Defense, which is the worst at defending receivers the last five weeks. Kupp is sixth in the league in fantasy points over the last five weeks at the position despite having four catches for 17 yards last week. He'll return to the WR1 section this week.
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods has been Jekyll and Hyde in the matter of a couple of weeks. He busted out with 13 catches for 164 yards three weeks ago and didn't catch a last on four targets last week. He'll have a brighter matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, who are the best matchup for opposing receivers the last five weeks. The Rams spread the ball around a lot, though, and Woods is limited to a flex option in point-per-reception formats.
Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee has been an afterthought in the offense this season with 16 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown in five games. He has a good matchup against the Atlanta Falcons this week, but he is too spotty to rely on in traditional leagues. He'd be someone to take at a basement price in daily formats, though.
Jacksonville rookie signal caller Gardner Minshew hit a significant bump in the road last week for the first time as a starter. The cure for that skid? It may just prove to be a matchup against a Bengals Defense yielding greater than 425 yards per game. Minshew failed to toss a touchdown last Sunday against New Orleans, the first time he did not record one in six games. While his 240.3 passing yard per contest average is far from gaudy, he has tossed nine touchdowns to just two interceptions, making him a safe option in traditional fantasy, as well as a high-upside low-priced option in DFS.
Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (abdomen) and running back Darren Sproles (quadriceps) both missed practice all week and have officially been ruled out for Week 7 against the Cowboys on Sunday night. Jackson is closer to returning than Sproles, but there remains no timetable for either player. D-Jax has been out since getting hurt in Week 2, and the Eagles offense is surely missing their deep threat, as Mack Hollins hasn't come close to replicating Jackson's production as a field-stretcher. Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Hollins will continue to operate in three-receiver sets in the big divisional showdown on Sunday evening.
The Los Angeles Rams Defense shouldn't be played against the Atlanta Falcons this week. They've had their issues on the ground, but they still put up points and air it out. The Rams are amidst a tough portion of their schedule and really haven't played well enough to hang onto in traditional formats.
Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray has a good matchup against the New York Giants in Week 7. Murray has been hot lately, and he's fifth in fantasy points among quarterbacks over the last three weeks. Murray has tossed for 834 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but his legs have been the difference. He has rushed 25 times for 152 yards and two touchdowns during that stretch. The Giants allow the eighth-most fantasy points to the position on average over the last five weeks. Murray is a mid-to-low QB1 this week.