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What'd They Say: Gruden Says Vikings Defense 'Knows Where the Snakes Are' in Coverages

The Raiders are coming to town.

Minnesota will host Oakland at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday, and Raiders Head Coach Jon Gruden knows exactly the atmosphere he'll be walking into. And, truth be told, he's excited.

"It is really loud in there," Gruden said of the home-field advantage created by Vikings fans. "I can't wait to hear the horn. That Viking [Gjallarhorn]. I love that thing."

The noise might be the least of the Raiders concerns, however.

Asked about preparing for the Vikings, Gruden weighed in on the tools Minnesota has on both sides of the ball. He emphasized the "amazing" continuity on defense.

"It's kind of like a 1980 or 1975 team. They've been together [for a long time]," Gruden told Oakland-area media members on Wednesday. "Playing together at every level in the same system is uncommon.

"They don't screw around on defense. They're really good, man. Really good," he added.

Gruden later said that Minnesota's success defensively "starts with the pass rush" after the unit takes away a team's run game.

"They get these pass rushers a lot of at-bats, and they can rip it, man. I mean, Everson Griffen is back," Gruden said emphatically. "Whatever anybody has said about Griffen in the past or whatever he went through last year, I don't know, but he is playing really well. And Danielle Hunter's one of the best unknown defensive ends in the league. I don't know why he doesn't get more credibility. [Xavier] Rhodes can shut you down, [Trae] Waynes is a first-rounder, Harrison Smith is a multi-Pro Bowler. They've got a lot of good players. … They're tough. They are tough."

Gruden, who led the Raiders from 1998-2001 and returned to the helm in 2018 after 10 years away from coaching, pointed out that Minnesota's defense has some similarities to Oakland's, but the Vikings are able to be more advanced because of their longevity.

"They know where all the snakes are, in every coverage," Gruden said. "They know where the problems are, and they can make adjustments. Every year, they can give you something, a twist or two, that you haven't see and can't prepare for."

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr also spoke to the uniqueness of the Vikings carryover on defense.

The former Fresno State standout has been in Oakland since being drafted 36th overall in 2014, which was Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer's first season in Minnesota. Carr said it's unusual that so many of the players on the Vikings roster that season are still in the locker room.

"Nowadays, that doesn't happen all that often. A lot of the defenses I played back then, they've got people scattered all over the place," Carr said. "This many guys staying in one place is pretty special. It says a lot about their system and their coaching staff and how much they believe in people."

The Vikings have changed considerably more offensively, and the adjustments have shown up primarily in the run game over the first two games.

After ranking 30th in the NFL with 93.3 rushing yards per game in 2018, the Vikings so far are averaging 185 yards per game, which is tied with the Colts for second in the league. Dalvin Cook has shouldered most of the workload, having already racked up 265 yards on the ground.

View photos of games between the Raiders and Vikings from over the years.

"You've got to really tip your hat to the creative running game that they have put together," Gruden said. "This Cook is a home-run hitter, and the young man from Boise [State University, Alexander Mattison,] is no slouch, either. I mean, they've got two good backs, they can run the ball with this wide-zone scheme, they've got the play-action passes off of it, and it's just a matter of time before they break out, I think. This is a heck of an offensive team with a lot of really good players and obviously a great offensive scheme."

Gruden said the Raiders spent a lot of time looking at Mattison leading up to this year's draft but ended up picking Josh Jacobs 24th overall. The Vikings snagged Mattison with the 102nd overall spot.

"We liked him, man. He can really catch the ball – I thought he snatched it. Even at the combine, his drills jumped off the tape at me," Gruden said. "When he gets in a game, they don't have any drop-off. That's a credit to [Mattison and Cook]. They have a good feel for the scheme, and they're slashing, elusive, good-sized backs."

Gruden also familiarity with another Viking: quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Interestingly, Gruden interviewed a young Cousins as part of his ESPN series QB Camp in advance of the 2012 NFL Draft. During the segment, Gruden told the former Michigan State Spartan, "Maybe one of these days I can get back in the game and coach you."

Little did he know that six years later, he would get back into coaching and now is preparing to go against Cousins, whom he said he's always liked.

"He's a quality person, comes from a great family. Works hard at his game, man," Gruden told Twin Cities media members via conference call. "He works hard at football, and he's had a lot of production."

Cousins took ownership of mistakes made during the Vikings Week 2 division matchup at Green Bay, and Gruden isn't sleeping on the veteran quarterback.

"We all know that deep down, Cousins, he's paid to throw the ball. And he's capable of ripping it. I've seen him throw for over 4,000 yards," said Gruden, whose brother Jay Gruden coached Cousins in Washington from 2014-17. "I've seen [Adam] Thielen crush people. And Stefon Diggs doesn't mess around, either. We've got to deal with it all. We can't just commit people to stop the run and give Cousins a lot of good 1-on-1 looks on the outside. We've gotta mix it up.

"I know Cousins. Cousins is tough to deal with," he later said. "When he gets hot, he's one of the best. So, we've got a lot of work to do."