There has been an ebb and flow between the Giants and Jets in almost every aspect throughout the years, from overall success to quarterback play to number of headlines garnered. But for the last three decades, one advantage has remained virtually constant. The Giants have almost always had the more established, more feared, more decorated and flat-out better defensive line.
From the day they drafted Lawrence Taylor, through the Michael Strahan era, and right up until the start of last year, the Giants have had a litany of who's-whos and All-Pros rushing the quarterback. Not even the venerable Sack Exchange could put more than a dent in the Giants' crown.
This year, though, the Jets may have the advantage. They are enjoying improvements to their front seven with Sheldon Richardson coming off a Rookie of the Year season. Meanwhile, it's hard to find a Giants' defensive end, once pillars of the franchise's success, who is a sure bet to carry on the tradition.
Jason Pierre-Paul? He says he's healthy but he has to prove it after a disappointing 2013.
Mathias Kiwanuka? A steady veteran. but the Giants made him take a pay cut. They don't do that to ascending players.
Damontre Moore? Plenty of potential but thus far no production.
Are we heading into the Dark Ages of Defensive Ends?
Don't write them off so easily, says one of the new additions to the unit, free-agent acquisition Robert Ayers Jr.
"We just want to define this season," he said this week. "We want to set the tone for this defense and have a group of guys that are hunting and hungry and getting after it. I'm not going to throw any predictions or things like that, but I will say this: Everybody on this D-line is hungry. Whenever you have guys like that, the sky is the limit."
Ayers isn't blind to the questions surrounding each one of the players entering this season, including his own as a free agent on a new team. But he believes that is exactly why they will succeed. Because each of them has something to prove.
"We definitely do," he said. "Everybody definitely has a chip on their shoulder. We're all hungry, we all want to work. Most importantly, everybody wants to win. That's first and foremost. You put in the work to win."
While most of the Giants' focus this summer has been on the chemistry of the new offensive line, the defensive linemen have been working on gelling as well.
"We've still got work to do as far as the front," Pierre-Paul said.
And while they won't line up against the Jets' defensive line, it's hard not to peek across the sports pages and see what they're up to. The Giants will get a chance to see it in person Friday night, all of those exotic blitzes and stunts and all of that talent that may soon be recognized as New York's best front.
"We just study our game," Pierre-Paul said of trying to ignore what the Jets do. "It's not like they can help us. We study our game and we try to execute all our plays."
"I don't want to compare anything to what's been done in the past," Ayers said. "Those guys have tremendous resumes, guys like [Justin] Tuck and Osi [Umenyiora] and [Chris] Canty and Strahan, a lot of great defensive linemen . . . We can do a lot of good things, but I just don't know how good those things can be."