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 Giants kicker Aldrick Rosas is on the verge of being streamable this week against the Lions. The former Pro Bowler hasn't had much success this year and has yet to make more than one field goal in a game all season. However, he's in a good matchup. The Giants figure to move the ball against a banged-up Lions Defense, and they will need to push the tempo to keep up with quarterbackMatthew Stafford and the Lions offense. Rosas still isn't a recommended option, but he can be considered in deep leagues.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Zach Pascal has seen his stock consistently grow over the past few weeks. He's still not a player that you can have a ton of confidence in starting, but he does have some flex consideration this week. His size allows him to be a mismatch against most corners, and the Denver Broncos don't have a guy that can match up with him consistently in that regard if cornerback Chris Harris Jr. shadows wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. If you're missing wideouts due to injuries or bye weeks, Pascal gives you upside thanks to his touchdown production and big-play ability.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett went off on the Houston Texans in Week 7. In Week 8, his matchup gets more difficult against the Denver Broncos. Through seven games, Denver has yet to allow a player to clear 300 passing yards, and no quarterback has thrown for more than two touchdowns against them. The Colts have a lot of pieces on offense, especially with the emergence of wide receiver Zach Pascal, but expectations for Brissett should be tempered this week. He's still a starter in two-quarterback leagues, but you have better options at QB in standard formats.
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has a bad matchup this week, but you have to start him anyway. He's scored five touchdowns in the five games that he's played, and he's averaging an impressive 17.2 PPR points per game this season. He has 15 more targets than any other Indianapolis pass-catcher, and quarterback Jacoby Brissett looks his way whenever he needs a reliable receiver. He's gotten at least nine targets in three out of his five games, and those looks will continue to be there for him against the Denver Broncos.
Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack got shut down in Week 7, but he has a good bounce-back spot in Week 8. Teams like the Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars have beaten the Denver Broncos by running the ball at them all game to control the clock. Mack does his best work when he gets a ton of volume, and that's how the Colts like to win games. If the passing game struggles, which is possible against a solid passing defense, they could lean on Mack throughout the game, especially down in the red zone.
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs is in line for an increased workload on Thursday night with target-hog Adam Thielen (hamstring) sitting out for the first time in his career. Week 8's matchup against the Washington Redskins is a favorable one as Diggs should be able to take advantage of coverage by either Quinton Dunbar or a struggling Josh Norman. Cousins and the play-action passing game have been on point as of late, as has Diggs with 14 catches for 310 yards and three touchdowns over his last two games. They remain a run-first team and are likely to lean on Dalvin Cook as they're favored by over 15 points at home, but Diggs needs to be started as a WR1/WR2 with upside considering Thielen's absence.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford absolutely feasted on the Vikings secondary in Week 7, and the feast may not be over with the New York Giants coming to town in Week 8. The Giants currently allow 8.92 yards per attempt, which trails only the Dolphins, so fantasy owners could be in for another huge performance from the 31-year-old signal-caller. The Giants don't present much in the way of run defense either, but with Kerryon Johnson recently being placed on IR a more pass-heavy approach can be expected. With top quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Dak Prescott on byes this week, and with Matt Ryan still yet to practice, Stafford vaults up the charts as one of the top quarterback options in Week 8 no matter the fantasy format. Get him in your lineups.
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson (knee) fully participated in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Wilson threw his first interception last week but still has posted 15 passing touchdowns in seven games. He should have success against the Atlanta Falcons this week and can be a No. 1 quarterback in all fantasy leagues.
Seattle Seahawks WR Tyler Lockett (non-injury) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Lockett has posted at least 50 yards in each of the last six games and has been targeted 12 times over the last two weeks. He should have a favorable matchup in Week 8 and can be a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver in all leagues.
Seattle Seahawks S Lano Hill (elbow), DE Quinton Jefferson (oblique) and S Bradley McDougald (back) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23. OT Duane Brown (biceps), OT George Fant (shoulder), CB Tre Flowers (neck), DE Ziggy Ansah (ankle) and S Quandre Diggs (hamstring) were limited during practice. OG D.J. Fluker (hamstring) fully participated in practice.
Seattle Seahawks RB Chris Carson (non-injury) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Carson has received at least 20 carries in each of the last four games and has posted three 100-yard games in that span. He will continue to be the focal point in the running game for the Seahawks and is a must-start option in all fantasy leagues.
Detroit Lions running back Ty Johnson, arguably this week's hottest waiver wire pickup after Kerryon Johnson was put on IR Tuesday, has a real chance to establish himself as the Lions lead back against a porous New York Giants squad in Week 8. Johnson should see most of the action out of the Lions backfield Sunday and can be expected to be involved in the passing game even with J.D. McKissic likely suiting up as the Lions passing-down back. Johnson's small stature does put into question whether he can be an every-down back, but with the Giants nonexistent run defense standing in his way this week fantasy owners should get some clarity as to whether Johnson can truly take over this backfield. Johnson will be considered a mid-range RB2 this week in a matchup where the game script should work to his benefit.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert (knee) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Mostert appears to have a chance to play in Week 8, but fantasy players will know more about his status later in the week. He will see a handful of touches if he is active for the game but can be avoided in most leagues.
San Francisco 49ers FB Kyle Juszczyk (knee), OT Mike McGlinchey (knee) and CB Ahkello Witherspoon (foot) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23. DE Dee Ford (quadriceps), DT D.J. Jones (hamstring) and OT Joe Staley (leg) were limited during practice.
Arizona Cardinals WR Christian Kirk (ankle) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Kirk has been limited during practice over the last two weeks but has also been inactive for the last two games, so his status for Week 8 is uncertain. Fantasy players may want to look at other options since he would have a tough matchup if he plays in the game.
Arizona Cardinals DE Zach Allen (neck), RB D.J. Foster (hamstring), LB Jordan Hicks (calf), DT Corey Peters (non-injury) and LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23. LB Dennis Gardeck (ankle), LB Haason Reddick (knee), LB Zeke Turner (hamstring) and TE Maxx Williams (ankle) were limited during practice. DT Zachariah Kerr (ankle) and S Charles Washington (shoulder) fully participated in practice.
San Francisco 49ers TE George Kittle (groin) was limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Kittle has been on the injury for the last few weeks but is in no danger of missing the Week 8 game. He should continue to be a weekly starting option in all fantasy leagues.
Green Bay Packers OT Bryan Bulaga (non-injury), TE Marcedes Lewis (non-injury) and CB Tramon Williams (knee) were limited during practice Wednesday, Oct. 23. S Adrian Amos (shoulder), CB Tony M. Brown (hamstring), LB Oren Burks (chest), DT Kenny Clark (shin), LB B.J. Goodson (shoulder), LB Blake Martinez (wrist), S Will Redmond (ankle), S Darnell Savage (ankle) and TE Robert Tonyan (hip) fully participated in practice.
Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (non-injury) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Oct. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Fitzgerald is coming off a disappointing Week 7 performance but has still be targeted at least seven times in five of the seven games this season. He will be facing one of the better defenses this week but still has a chance to be a flex option in leagues.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (ankle, knee) put in a full practice on Wednesday after being questionable for Week 7 against the Raiders. MVS ultimately played, albeit limited snaps, and finished with over 100 yards and a touchdown with No. 1 wideout Davante Adams (toe) sidelined again. Adams missed practice on Wednesday and could very well sit out again this Sunday night against the Chiefs. Against a porous secondary, Valdes-Scantling would be a boom/bust WR3/flex. Geronimo Allison, Jake Kumerow and Allen Lazard should all continue to see more run if Adams misses anymore time, but they're all hard to trust as anything more than low-ceiling flexes in deeper formats.