Of all the marquee matchups in Saturday's showdown between the Jets and Giants, perhaps the best will take place on the line of scrimmage. The Green & White will be tasked with stopping the vaunted Giants pass rush, a feat accomplished by very few teams this season.
"The number one thing for us on offense is the pass rush the Giants have," said head coach Rex Ryan. "When you have those kinds of end guys with [Jason] Pierre-Paul, [Justin] Tuck, and [Chris] Canty, that's a big, physical group that can really get after the passer. It's going to be a huge matchup there."
The Giants have tallied 37 sacks on the season, good enough for fifth in the NFC and 10th overall. The torrid pace Big Blue had set earlier in the season has slowed — they have totaled only six sacks in their last four games. While injuries to key veteran linemen have undoubtedly been partially to blame for the lack of pressure, at least one Giants defensive end has continued to be problematic for opposing offensive lines.
Second-year man Pierre-Paul has broken out in a big way, recording 13.5 sacks and forcing two fumbles, both team highs. The young DE is making his presence known throughout the league and has drawn the attention of the Jets' pass protectors.
"He takes advantage of the opportunities given to him," said LT D'Brickashaw Ferguson. "Every year there's one guy or a couple guys who really show themselves in that group."
Ferguson stands to see a healthy dose of the dynamic Pierre-Paul, who lines up at several different spots on the Giants defensive front.
"Pierre-Paul is playing better than anybody in the league," said Ryan. "He should be going to the Pro Bowl and should be starting. To see him go against Brick is going to be a great matchup."
Ferguson anchors a Jets offensive line that can at times be among the best in the league. As a unit, they have surrendered only seven sacks over the last four games, including shutouts of the Bills and Redskins. As good as those performances were, Sunday's loss to the Eagles showed how they can struggle.
The Eagles sacked QB Mark Sanchez four times, including three from DE Jason Babin, who now leads the NFL with 18. The Jets have allowed 33 sacks in 2011, which ranks them 10th in the AFC and 18th overall. That middle-of-the-pack standing won't cut it Saturday against the Giants, also playing for their postseason lives.
"We're in very similar positions," said Ferguson. "It's important that we win out, and it's important that they win games. It's a true matchup; New York versus New York. It's going to be fun."
Today it was clear Ferguson and his linemates had moved past the Philadelphia game and were looking forward to the Christmas Eve battle with the Giants. A native of Freeport on Long Island, Ferguson was able to give his perspective of the intra-stadium rivalry that will unfold.
"Growing up, you'd watch a game, and you always have those arguments about which team you like more," said Ferguson. "The game is fun, and to play on Christmas Eve makes it even more special."
Drafted as the fourth overall pick by the Jets in 2006, Ferguson has been able to play less than 50 miles from his hometown. Saturday will be only the second time he has faced off against the G-Men. The first was a 35-24 loss to Big Blue at the old Meadowlands stadium in 2007. To this day, he maintains friendships with fans of the "other" New York team.
"I have a lot of friends who — even after I got drafted — were like, 'I was going to buy your jersey, but I can't,' " said Ferguson. "I had to respect that. You can be from Long Island, the city. It's really cut down the middle. Growing up, I definitely knew how strongly people feel about their football team."
Like most locals, Ferguson is excited for this tilt. He expects the atmosphere to be electric and the game a war.
"I hope to see Santa Claus in the crowd a couple of times," said Ferguson. "I just hope that everybody really gets caught up in the game. It's a big game for both of us and it's on an important day. It should be a good one."