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  • Plus, the Cowboys shuffle at linebacker with Sean Lee back, the Patriots’ plan for Khalil Mack, and the latest on injuries for Gronkowski, Melvin Gordon and Dalvin Cook and more heading into Week 7
By Albert Breer
October 21, 2018

News and notes to know heading into Week 7…

1. Lots of whispers about who the Oakland Raiders could move ahead of the Oct. 30 trade deadline. The two names generating the most buzz: WR Amari Cooper and S Karl Joseph. The problem is the team wants a first-round pick for the former, and a third-rounder for the latter. I do think there would be teams that would be willing to part with a second-rounder for Cooper, who’s been a good guy but not the best worker in the building the last couple years. The new staff has seen flashes of improvement in that area, but like his play and his performance in practice, it hasn’t been consistent enough. That is part of why they’re listening.

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2. While we’re there, a couple teams were monitoring the Broncos ahead of their Thursday night game against the Cardinals, and the potential availability of corners Chris Harris and Bradley Roby had they lost. That win may change the complexion of things going forward for Denver, since the Broncos only have one more game before the deadline.

3. The Cowboys’ offense goes into Washington with a formula and some confidence after ripping through the vaunted Jaguars defense. Last week was really about four alterations after some early-season struggles: getting Cole Beasley more chances (facilitated by the Jags’ shaky slot corner situation), creating one-on-ones for rookie receiver Michael Gallup, being more aggressive vertically, and making the threat of Dak Prescott in the run game real.

4. Speaking of Dallas, Sean Lee’s return to the Cowboys defense will be interesting. Rookie Leighton Vander Esch has played well filling in at the Will (weakside) linebacker spot. The Cowboys believe he can play Jaylon Smith’s Mike (middle linebacker) position too, so I’d expect Dallas to toy with a three-man rotation at those two spots today.

5. It was interesting to see Patriots coach Bill Belichick take exception to a question this week, asking for a comparison between Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack and the Giants legend that he coached, Lawrence Taylor. Might it have something to do with how New England was able to handle Mack in Mexico City last November? Backup right tackle LaAdrian Waddle matched up well with Mack in that one, with Mack’s sack on that day coming on third-stringer Cameron Fleming. Tom Brady typically handles edge pressure well, so it will be interesting to see if the Pats give Waddle (in again for an injured Marcus Cannon) any help this time around, with Mack (ankle) less than 100 percent.

6. As for Rob Gronkowski, there’s plenty of fogginess—his back injury showed up on the injury report after Friday’s practice, and it’s really unusual that a guy wouldn’t make the trip and not be ruled out immediately. Then there’s the matter of his incentives. He’ll lose out on a $62,500 roster bonus should he miss the game in Chicago. And it will hurt his chances at the $3.3 million he can get by hitting at least three of four incentive triggers set at $1.1 million: 80 percent play time, 70 catches, 1,085 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s played 91 percent of the offense’s snaps, so he should be fine there if this is a one-week thing, but missing this game would put his season pace at 59 catches for 926 yards and two touchdowns, meaning he’d have some catching up to do.

7. Vikings RB Dalvin Cook came out of Wednesday’s practice sore, which precipitated his absence from Thursday and Friday’s work, and now today’s game. As I understand it, he’s still week-to-week. But as he could tell you, having missed almost two months, hamstrings linger and are unpredictable.

8. As for Chargers RB Melvin Gordon, he tweaked his hamstring in practice on Friday, and his availability will be determined by how he feels on Sunday morning in London. If he can’t go, the expectation is second-year pro Austin Ekeler, who’s averaging 6.4 yards per carry, will get a lot of work. Also to consider: If the Chargers wanna rest Gordon, he has the bye on the other side of the London game.

9. We mentioned Josh Reynolds as a potential guy to watch last week, before Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks cleared the league’s concussion protocol. Now, with Kupp down, I’ll reiterate that the Rams like what they have in the 2017 fourth-round pick, and it’s worth keeping an eye on him against the Niners’ 25th-ranked pass defense.

10. Carlos Hyde won’t play for Jacksonville today, but the Jaguars’ trade for him isn’t about finding a one-week fill-in for Leonard Fournette anyway. It was about maintaining the team’s identity. T.J. Yeldon is a good player, and Corey Grant was playing well before that, but neither is the hammer that Fournette is. Hyde can be. So for however long the hamstring keeps Fournette off the field, the Jags now have a lever to go to. It’s not unlike how the Giants, under Tom Coughlin, used to continue to stock their greatest strength along defensive line. That way, if you lose a guy, you don’t lose your identity.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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