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Giants, Vikings feature strong D-lines

Defensive end Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings

Defensive end Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates a sack against Tony Romo in last year's NFC Divisional Playoffs. (Jan. 17, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

It would have been easy for Kevin Boothe to give the quick, expected answer. Asked which defensive line he would least like to face - the one he sees every day in practice for the Giants or the one he'll go against Sunday for the Vikings - he might have been expected to give a quick nod to his teammates, keep the locker room harmonious and crown the Giants with the best front in the NFL.

But he didn't. Which is a testament to just how good the Vikings' front four is.

"I would hope I wouldn't have to play either," he said Thursdayafter giving the question a moment of legitimate thought. "That one's like a pick your poison. That's tough either way. I don't think anyone would like to have that choice."

They go about things very differently - the Vikings rely on mountainous men to clog the middle and the Giants use athleticism and speed to confuse opponents - but there is very little doubt that when ranking the defensive fronts in the NFL, both teams would be near the top. And on Sunday, although they will not be playing against each other at any point on the field, they will be jousting for the unofficial crown.

Any way you break down the numbers, the two units are impressive. The Giants have 26 sacks from the defensive linemen active on their current 53-man roster; the Vikings have 181/2 from theirs. But the Vikings' defensive line accounts for 84.1 percent of the team sacks and the Giants' linemen have only 74.3 percent of their league-high 35. (Then again, if you factor in the four sacks by Mathias Kiwanuka before he went on IR, and you count him as a lineman, the Giants' percentage shoots up to 85.7 percent.)

Want to look at how the teams do against the run? The Vikings allow an average of 92.0 yards per game and the Giants give up 98.0, good for fourth and seventh in the NFL.

Even the number of rushing first downs they have allowed is similar and stunning. The Vikings have given up 61, the Giants 64.

"Their front four is about as good as there is in the NFL," Eli Manning said of the Vikings. "They'll stop the run, get a good pass rush without bringing too many blitzes. They'll mix in the blitz, but the front four is very talented. We have to be able to block it up and give us a chance to get the ball out."

One guy who has faced both units - at least in practice situations - is Sage Rosenfels. He was the Vikings' backup quarterback last season and now has that job with the Giants.

"The Vikings have a great understanding of what they do, of the strengths and weaknesses of the defenses they run," he said. "They don't have 25 different blitzes that we have to figure out this week, but what they do is so sound and the players they have are so good that when they execute defensively, it's hard for offenses to make positive yardage."

And the Giants?

"The thing about our defense is Perry [Fewell] draws up a few more exotic pressures that you have to be on your toes for as a quarterback," he said.

Not surprisingly, the players actually involved seemed to have very little interest in comparing the lines or even amping up their game because they are facing a team that could claim just as easily as they can to have the best front four.

"I don't think that really makes a difference in what we're trying to do," Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty said.

And all of those numbers and stats and sacks and tackles and rankings, well, they ultimately mean very little.

"I really don't discuss it very much with the defensive players or even with the defensive staff either," defensive coordinator Fewell said. "What matters is the wins."

That will make it easy to decide which unit is the best on Sunday.


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