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Breaking news and year-round coverage of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. Access Vikings is the Star Tribune's blog covering team news, rumors, games and all things purple.

Vikings punter Jeff Locke gets back to basics

The Vikings got a second consecutive strong game from punter Jeff Locke in Sunday’s victory at Carolina. Locke averaged 48.4 yards per kick and benefited from strong coverage –including the addition of receiver Cordarrelle Patterson as a gunner — for a net of 45.6 yards.

Special teams coach Mike Priefer on Friday said it was probably Locke’s best game in his four seasons with the Vikings.

“Jeff’s a smart guy, but a lot of kickers and punters and snappers, they like to over analyze and overthink stuff,” Priefer said “Jeff’s biggest issue a year ago, especially at the old stadium, outdoor stadium, is he would overthink the winds a lot of times. One of the things we worked on this offseason was going back to basics, going back to the fundamentals, working a little bit more during the week … on the fundamental aspect of punting, the drop, the angle of the approach, the set pattern, all the basic stuff he needs to do consistently to be a good punter.”

Patterson was a big help to Locke, downing a 58-yard punt at the 2 and tackling Ted Ginn for a 1-yard loss on a 50-yarder. Priefer thought about using Patterson as a gunner, “Probably about a year ago. He wasn’t playing much in the offense, such a great athlete, no reason not to put him out there. Wasn’t sure if he was very comfortable with that idea a year ago.”

“We started to do some of that in training camp, but he wasn’t healthy, he had that shoulder problem.”

The highlight for the special teams was Marcus Sherels’ 54-yard punt return TD; the lowlight was another missed extra point by Blair Walsh.

“He needs to approach it like it’s a short field goal, that’s what it is,” Priefer said. “His mind set has to be the same for an extra point as it is for any type of field goal. Physically he’s got all the tools. It’s between the ears right now and something we talked about this week.

“I feel very confident in him going forward. I don’t know what else to tell you right now.”

X Factor: Stefon Diggs could be the difference maker vs. Giants

Every week following theAccess Vikings Gameday Preview podcast, we'll delve deeper into who Andrew Krammer pegged as the potential difference maker for the upcoming game.

Cole Beasley, Willie Snead, Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.

A Giants secondary, having allowed seven receivers to surpass 50 yards in three games, limps into Monday night against the Vikings with four defensive backs unable to practice Thursday in CB Eli Apple, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, S Nat Berhe and S Darian Thompson. They were even forced to use receivers as scout-team safeties in practice.

So the best chance for a sputtering Vikings offense to get going just might be Stefon Diggs, the team’s leading receiver who has accounted for 38 percent of the yardage through three weeks.

The slippery and sudden receiver hit a speed bump in Carolina as the Vikings’ passing attack reverted to a quicker approach. Sam Bradford did not attempt a pass 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage against a stingy defense. Diggs, who has been included in a lot of underneath routes, might have more room inside U.S. Bank Stadium.

On paper, the Giants defense looks little like the group that took a 49-17 thumping by the Vikings on Dec. 27. But they’ve yet to fully put it together after a free agency premium was paid for defensive end Olivier Vernon with additional invested via the signing of CB Janoris Jenkins, the first-round selection of Apple and third-round pick of Thompson.

The results have largely been without bite. Opponents have thrown at the Giants at one of the league’s highest clips (41.7 times per game, fifth) in the early going, yet they’re one of just two defenses without an interception. The big blue pass rush is tied for 23rd with four sacks.

They have been able to limit Ezekiel Elliott, Mark Ingram and Matt Jones as the Giants allow just 3.2 yards per carry so far.

“This is a tough team to run the ball against,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “They haven’t given up a lot of yards running, but we’re going to have to be hard-headed and stick with it.”

Offensive coordinator Norv Turner won’t let that priority fall by the wayside, though the undefeated Vikings have yet to take the lead first in a game.Signs point to their best chance being through the air.

Entering his second season, Diggs added about 10 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot frame. Returning a healthy Charles Johnson and drafting Laquon Treadwell at split end allowed the Vikings to move Diggs around the formation and find better matchups, including against the Packers when he pickedup gains of 25, 44 and 46 yards from both the slot and outside roles.

His separating trait fromdefensive backs and receivers alike continues to be agile feet and dedication to precise footwork.

“He has great feet,” receivers coach George Stewart said. “That's one thing he has worked on. He has always worked on his foot quickness. He does a lot of drill work.”

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Diggs’ acceleration, 4.4 speed and sticky hands make him a threat down the fieldand underneath, whether via quick slant on a 46-yard catch and run or deep on this 25-yard touchdown over Damarious Randall in Week 2.

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7:30 PM, 10/3 (ESPN)
NY Giants 2-1
Minnesota 3-0

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