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
Updating a previous report, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (knee) underwent a precautionary standard procedure on his knee on Thursday, according to a source. He's expected to be out for "some period of time," including the Week 8 game against the division-rival Bills. The good news is that he's not expected to miss the rest of the year, but it means that those in 12-team leagues can drop him at this point. The veteran pass-catcher hasn't topped three catches or 35 yards in any of his last four games. With N'Keal Harry (concussion) questionable this weekend, the Pats could be trotting out Damiere Byrd, Gunner Olszewski and Jakobi Myers in three-wide sets. It's safe to say that quarterback Cam Newton won't be a strong play this Sunday.
The Pittsburgh Steelers Defense has been one of the best units in the NFL through the first seven weeks of the season. Pittsburgh's defense ranks No. 2 overall in DVOA and has proven to be a tough matchup for opposing offenses. That being said, they will face a stiff test in Week 8 in a road game against an explosive Baltimore Ravens offense. While the Steelers have been an excellent fantasy defense this season, it would be wise to look for a streaming option with a better matchup for Week 8.
Cincinnati Bengals rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins has steadily seen his role in the offense increase as the season has gone on, with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow looking his way more often recently. Higgins caught all five of his looks last week for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Browns. Half of his 22 total yards after the catch last Sunday came on his 11-yard touchdown scamper. Burrow is having success getting the pigskin to Higgins in space over the middle and letting him do the rest of the work. Higgins now has 27 receptions for 410 yards and three touchdowns in his first seven games in the NFL. The 21-year-old Clemson product will be a low-end WR2/high-end WR3 in Week 8 against the Titans.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (knee) isn't at practice on Thursday and is expected to miss some game action, according to a source. Edelman has been bothered by a knee injury, which could require surgery, although he's not expected to miss the rest of the season. It could be why the veteran just hasn't been himself this year, even though Tom Brady is in Tampa. Edelman caught just one pass for 13 yards in the Week 7 blowout loss to the 49ers and he's now droppable in 12-team leagues. He's been held to 35 yards or less in four straight contests. N'Keal Harry, Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Myers should see more work with Edelman set to miss time. It's more bad news for quarterback Cam Newton as well.
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones has played in only five games this year due to injury, but he's been crucial in three of those games. Jones is averaging 11.2 air yards per target while also facing press coverage on nearly one-third of his 31 catches on the season. Quarterback Matt Ryan has a 131.5 passer rating when targeting the All-Pro wideout. The 31-year-old always seems to be banged up at this point in his career, but when he does play, he remains productive and should continue to be considered a must-start WR1. He's had great success against the Panthers -- the team's Thursday night opponent -- in the past, so go ahead and fire him up this week. Jones has 16 catches (19 targets), 234 yards and two scores in the last two weeks.
New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder has somehow been productive in New York's otherwise atrocious offense in 2020. In only four games played, Crowder has racked up 194 yards after the catch. He's made plays with the ball in his hands as the team's top playmaker, gaining more than half of his total receiving yards after he's caught the ball. Crowder has taken what the defenses have given him. The Jets offense as a whole is dead last in the league in yards per game and passing yards per game, making Crowder's achievements even more impressive. The 27-year-old missed last week with a groin injury, though, and he may be questionable for Week 8 against the Chiefs. If he plays, he should be peppered with targets in a game in which the Jets will likely be behind by multiple scores throughout.
Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin is second in the NFL through seven weeks with 309 yards after the catch, trailing only Alvin Kamara. The second-year receiver is averaging a full 10 air yards per target as well, meaning he's not just catching short passes and racking up the yards after the catch. McLaurin hasn't been over the top in gaining yards after the catch based on expectations, but he's gotten the job done as Washington has already made a quarterback switch from Dwayne Haskins Jr. to Kyle Allen. Washington is on bye this week, but McLaurin should be back in all lineups in Week 9 against the Giants after he caught seven passes for 90 yards and a touchdown in last week's win over Dallas.
Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron has been productive over the last month of the season, catching at least five passes in three of his last four games. He could struggle to keep it going in Week 8 as he will face off against a tough Baltimore Ravens team. Baltimore's pass defense ranks seventh in DVOA and is allowing the 16th-most fantasy points per game to the tight end position. Ebron settles in as an uninspiring TE2 for Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster finally showed some signs of life in Week 7, setting season highs with nine catches and 85 yards in a win over the Tennessee Titans. While his big performance helped to ease concerns about his slow start to the season, Smith-Schuster could struggle to produce against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8. Baltimore's defense is tough against the pass, ranking seventh in DVOA and allowing the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to the wide receiver position. Fantasy managers can still start Smith-Schuster, but treat him as a WR3 for Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool disappointed in Week 7, finishing with just one catch on his lone target. The slow outing by Claypool coincided with the return to action by No. 1 wideout Diontae Johnson, who caught two touchdowns in the game. Claypool appears to have a tough matchup on tap for Week 8 as he will go up against the Baltimore Ravens, a pass defense that is ranked seventh in DVOA this year. That being said, Claypool does draw the most favorable matchup of the top three Pittsburgh wideouts, as he will primarily run his routes against Marcus Peters. Peters has struggled in coverage this season, so Claypool could see more targets come his way if the Ravens can successfully shut down JuJu Smith-Schuster and Johnson. Treat Claypool as a WR3 for Week 8.
Minnesota Vikings rookie wide receiver Justin Jefferson has 28 catches for 537 receiving yards so far this year, and 36.3 percent of those yards have come after the catch. Jefferson has proved to be extremely difficult to cover and tackle for opponents, and his contributions have helped overcome the departure of Stefon Diggs. At the rate he's currently on, Jefferson will finish his first year in the NFL with well over 1,000 yards receiving, with nearly half of those yards coming after he's caught the football. The 21-year-old is the real deal. He's averaging 3.20 yards per route run and had nine catches for 166 yards and two touchdowns before the team's Week 7 bye. The LSU product has become a must-start WR2.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (toe) is coming off a two-touchdown outing in Week 7 against the Tennessee Titans. Johnson's big day was evidence that he is still the No. 1 wide receiver in Pittsburgh, despite the emergence of rookie Chase Claypool. Johnson is a bit banged up, however, as he missed practice on Wednesday with a toe injury. This is a situation worth monitoring ahead of his Week 8 game against the Baltimore Ravens. If Johnson does play, he faces a tough matchup against the Baltimore secondary. Treat Johnson as a high-end WR3 for Week 8.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown had 2.9 receiving yards per route run in his rookie year in 2019, which trailed only Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Thomas and Antonio Brown since 2016. Brown has played in only four games this year due to injury, but he's still been a yards-after-the-catch monster despite only accounting for 20.5 percent of the team's total receiving output. He had 96 yards after the catch in the Week 7 loss to the Steelers, and that one game accounted for almost two-thirds of his total yards after the catch for the season. Since returning from injury, Brown has 293 receiving yards and four touchdowns in three games. We'd say he's back. Keep him in your lineups as a high-end WR1 against Cincinnati this weekend.
X-rays this week showed that Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (thumb) has multiple fractures and a strained ligament in his right thumb, according to sources. Minshew has been dealing with pain in his thumb since Oct. 11 against the Texans, but the team didn't know about his injury until this week. The Jags are on bye this week, but it's unclear if he'll be able to play in Week 9 against the Texans. We'd be surprised if the 24-year-old is ready to go coming off the bye with this injury, so plan ahead if you've been using him in superflex leagues as a QB2. Mike Glennon is the team's backup and would get the starting nod against Houston if Minshew cannot go.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Andy Dalton (concussion) took part in the quarterback meeting on Thursday, showing that he's making some progress in the league's concussion protocol. However, he will not practice again on Thursday, according to head coach Mike McCarthy. Rookie Ben DiNucci will continue to see first-team repetitions in practice and looks increasingly likely to see his first career NFL start in Week 8 against the division-rival Eagles. DiNucci will be an unappetizing low-end QB2 in superflex leagues if Dalton cannot get cleared, while the Eagles Defense will be a strong play this weekend. Dallas receivers should be downgraded with the rookie likely to start.
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (calf), who did not practice on Wednesday, is itching to get back onto the field after sitting out in Week 7. Jones thinks he can play in Week 8 against the Vikings and wants to play, but the Packers medical staff continues to be very conservative, especially with Green Bay having a short turnaround in Week 9 against the 49ers on Thursday night. As of right now, it seems like the Packers will err on the side of caution and keep Jones out for the second straight week. Jamaal Williams stepped in last Sunday for a season-high 19 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown against the Texans, and he also caught four passes for 37 yards. If Jones is inactive again, Williams will be a plug-and-play RB2 against Minnesota.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey (ankle) will not be taken off Injured Reserve and activated for Thursday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. McCaffrey returned to practice this week, but the short week probably prevented him from getting back up to speed and ready for game action. Mike Davis can be started by fantasy owners with confidence and should flourish in a great matchup against the Falcons. McCaffrey, meanwhile, should be considered likely to make his return in Week 9 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In Week 8, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will be looking to bounce back from his worst performance of the season. Roethlisberger threw three interceptions and two touchdowns in Week 7, although the Steelers still wound up winning. He draws a tough matchup against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 8. Baltimore's defense is allowing the 13th-most fantasy points per game to the quarterback position but their pass defense does rank seventh in DVOA. Fantasy gamers should treat Roethlisberger as a mid-range QB2 for Week 8.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner has been a productive fantasy option for much of the season, having found the end zone four times in six games. He may struggle to reach his normal production levels in Week 8, however, against a tough Baltimore Ravens run defense. Baltimore is allowing the fourth-fewest fantasy points per game to the running back position and has a run defense that is ranked third in DVOA. Conner should see enough work to finish as an RB2, just don't expect a big game out of him this weekend.
The Cleveland Browns Defense has been a solid play in fantasy for much of the 2020 season. While they are allowing opposing offenses to score frequently, Cleveland's defense has been opportunistic, leading the league with 14 takeaways through seven games. Cleveland is installed as three-point home favorites for their Week 8 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders. While the Las Vegas offense has been good this season, Cleveland can still be treated as a top-12 fantasy option for Week 8.