The Jets rush defense should get its first major challenge of the summer when the Green & White face off against their crosstown rivals Saturday night at MetLife Stadium.
"We're going against a great team like this that prides itself on running the football, so it'll be a real test for our linebackers and also for our D-linemen coming in," said WLB Bart Scott of the Giants. "It'll be a great test because they're good at running the ball. They have two great backs with two different running styles. You kind of have a power back [Brandon Jacobs] and then you have a shifty, hard-running, high-effort guy in [Ahmad] Bradshaw, who poses different problems. It'll be a great test for our fundamentals."
Halfway through the NFL's preseason slate, the Jets own the league's top rush defense. Sure, they may have benefited from Texans RB Arian Foster's absence in Week 1, but the Jets have been stout at 46 yards per game. Minus three defensive regulars — Scott, NT Sione Pouha and OLB Calvin Pace — against Cincinnati, the Jets dominated up front and held Cedric Benson to 14 yards on seven carries.
"Those guys are playing technique up front and eliminating the space for the running backs to run through," said David "Hitman" Harris. "Right now we're playing lights-out against the run and give credit to all those D-linemen up front — especially those young guys, MTV [Martin Tevaseu], Muhammad [Wilkerson] and Ropati [Pitoitua]. They're going to be called upon this year and they're doing what they're supposed to do."
Scott, who has collected at least 100 tackles in the five of the past six seasons and was one of two Jets defensive players to start all 16 games in 2010, has played all of one play in the preseason. But second-year player Josh Mauga has stepped in and solidified himself as the third inside linebacker. The 6'1", 243-pounder is tied for the team lead with seven defensive stops and has added a sack and an interception.
"He's getting more used to playing out there and getting used to the system and all the calls that need to be made," Harris said of Mauga. "He's playing fast out there, he's playing real good this year and he's going to be a key contributor to this defense."
"He's shown a tremendous amount of growth, a grasp of the system," added Scott. "The game has slowed down for him and he's making big plays for us."
Mauga wasted little time making a difference in Houston, racking up a tackle for a 1-yard loss on his first play and then a sack of Matt Schaub on the next snap.
"Getting that year under my belt really helped me a lot understanding the schemes," he said. "I can come out here, be myself and just play. You don't have to worry about 'What do I have on this play? What do I have on this play?' I just go out there and be myself."
Showcasing depth in the preseason is critical, but the Jets are anticipating the returns of Scott, Pouha and Pace this weekend. You won't find a better pair of inside linebackers than Harris and Scott, and the former is excited to get No. 57 back in the mix.
"It's quiet on the field," Harris said. "We kind of miss him out there because of his tempo and his loud mouth, but we can't wait to get him back."
The Giants have rushed the ball very well thus far, ranking fourth in the NFL at 149.5 yards per game while their massive 5.8 yards per carry paces the league. But they should expect some more resistance than what they've seen thus far.
"This game is always fun because the starters play a half or three quarters of the game and it's always intense," Harris said. "You never want to lose against your crosstown rivals. It's going to be a fun game and we're going to come out victorious."