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.''
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring) is unlikely to suit up for Thursday Night Football against the Washington Redskins in Week 8. The 29-year-old seems to think he is capable of playing, but the Vikings will likely rest their ailing star against a mediocre opponent on a short week. In his absence, rookie Olabisi Johnson will likely serve as the WR2. Johnson, who had 40 yards and a touchdown in Week 7, is a viable streaming option for fantasy managers that are desperate for a receiver in Week 8.
Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller is expected to miss several weeks with a significant hamstring strain, per Ian Rapoport. Fuller suffered the injury against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7. With Fuller sidelined, Kenny Stills becomes a must-add asset in almost all formats. The 27-year-old produced 105 yards on four catches against the Colts after Fuller exited the game. Stills can be considered a mid-tier WR3 against the Oakland Raiders in Week 8.
Seattle Seahawks S Bradley McDougald (back) sat out of practice all week after suffering from back spasms and was unable to play in Week 7 against the Baltimore Ravens, but head coach Pete Carroll told reporters during his postgame press conference that he believes McDougald will be able to make it back for Week 8 versus the Atlanta Falcons.
Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen only hauled in 4-of-11 targets for 61 yards during a 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. Despite having a positive pass-catching game script, Allen and Philip Rivers failed to connect on several deep balls. Luckily, due to the Chargers' uninspiring defensive unit, the game script is almost always positive for the passing attack. Allen remains a mid-tier WR1 against the Chicago Bears in Week 8.
Updating a previous report, New Orleans Saints CB Eli Apple (knee) likely suffered a hyperextended knee late in the team's Week 7 game versus the Chicago Bears, although more tests are scheduled to determine the extent of his injury Monday, Oct. 21.
Updating previous reports, Houston Texans WR Will Fuller (hamstring) is expected to miss 'several weeks' after suffering 'a rather significant hamstring pull,' according to a source via NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Fantasy Spin: Fuller hasn't come close to playing a full season in four years in the NFL, so fantasy owners can't exactly be shocked by this development. While the Texans will miss his ability to stretch the field, Fuller's lack of durability was probably one of the biggest reasons Houston made sure to land Kenny Stills in the Laremy Tunsil trade this summer. Stills should be able to fill in nicely and serve as a high-upside WR3 for however long Fuller is sidelined.
Updating a previous report, Washington Redskins S Montae Nicholson (ankle) was seen walking around in a boot Monday, Oct. 21, after injuring his right ankle in Week 7 against the San Francisco 49ers.
Free-agent CB Kayvon Webster (Saints) worked out for the New Orleans Saints on Monday, Oct. 21.
Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry caught six passes for 97 yards during a 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. The 24-year-old has seen 17 targets over his past two games. Now fully healthy, Henry is unquestionably a top-tier tight end for the remainder of the season. He has a tougher matchup against the Chicago Bears in Week 8, but he is still an undisputed TE1 for the contest.
Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert pulled in just two receptions for 10 yards against Jacksonville in Week 7. The veteran has been a huge fantasy disappointment this season, and with rumblings of a trade before the deadline, Eifert's days in Cincy may be over soon. He has the potential to produce, and if you're able, he is worth a stash in deeper formats, at least for now.
Cleveland Browns RB Kareem Hunt (abdomen) has been cleared by the NFL to rejoin the team and begin practicing with them Monday, Oct. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Hunt has been sidelined all season recovering from sports hernia surgery and serving an eight-game suspension for domestic abuse for an incident that occurred during his time with the Kansas City Chiefs. The former rushing champion is not eligible to return to game action until Week 10, so Nick Chubb will serve as a team's featured back for at least two more weeks. It's expected Hunt will serve as the change-of-pace back when he returns.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler only produced seven rushing yards on five carries in Week 7, but he salvaged the day by catching seven passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. Melvin Gordon had 16 carries in the contest despite being outplayed by Ekeler, but the Chargers continue to let Gordon dominate the ground game. Nevertheless, Ekeler's ability as a receiver continues to give him value as a fantasy asset. He is an above-average flex option against the dominant Chicago Bears' defense in Week 8.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Auden Tate finished with three catches (six targets) for 65 yards against Jacksonville in Week 7. After getting 11 looks from quarterback Andy Dalton against the Ravens in Week 6, Tate's production was yielded by Alex Erickson, who hauled in eight receptions for 137 yards on the day. With A.J. Green (ankle) expected to return soon, Tate will likely be relegated to backing up Green and Tyler Boyd moving forward. Keep an eye on Green's status for Week 8 and plan accordingly.
Updating previous reports, Minnesota Vikings WR Adam Thielen (hamstring) is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday, Oct. 21, but he faces the 'real possibility' of not playing in Week 8 against the Washington Redskins.
Fantasy Spin: While everyone around the team believes the injury is not serious, the Vikings play on Thursday, making it an almost impossible turnaround for Thielen. In theory, Minnesota should not need him against the Redskins, but the Vikings' passing attack is not so deep and talented that it can just assume it will thrive without Kirk Cousins' favorite receiver. If Thielen sits, it will be the first game he's missed in his NFL career. Fantasy owners should feel free to bump up Stefon Diggs in their weekly rankings as well.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon produced 32 yards on 16 carries during a 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. While he caught a one-yard touchdown pass, he also lost a fumble at the goal line in the final seconds of the game to drop the Chargers to 2-4 on the season. The 26-year-old continues to be outplayed by Austin Ekeler, but Gordon continues to get the majority of the touches. As long as he remains the workhorse in the offense, he is a worthy RB2 in fantasy formats. Unfortunately, he has a tough matchup in Week 8 against the daunting Chicago Bears Defense, which likely makes him a flex play at best.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd finished with five receptions for 55 yards against Jacksonville on Sunday. With 14 targets on the day, which was tied with Alex Erickson, who hauled in eight catches for 137 yards, Boyd wasn't able to get anything going against a Jaguars Defense that was all over quarterback Andy Dalton. A.J. Green (ankle) is expected to return within the next week or so, and while it may decrease Boyd's looks, Green's presence back in the lineup may open things up for 24-year-old moving forward.
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers completed 24 of his 38 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns during a 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. Rivers has now thrown for over 300 yards in a game five times this season and has also had five games with multiple passing touchdowns. Despite the notable production, Rivers is a tough fantasy asset to trust in Week 8 against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. He is only an option in two-quarterback leagues for that contest.
Free-agent RB Spencer Ware (Colts) is working out for the Arizona Cardinals Monday, Oct. 21.
Free-agent WR Eli Rogers (Steelers) is working out for the Houston Texans Monday, Oct. 21.
Free-agent RB Jay Ajayi (Eagles) is working out for the Arizona Cardinals Monday, Oct. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Ajayi has been training and preparing to sign with a team for a few weeks. He's definitely worth stashing in deeper leagues and would be a flex option in the right situation.