FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
For all its complexity on game days, when 22 players match up on each and every play and it looks more like organized chaos, football is often a game of individual matchups, the outcomes of which will usually determine who wins and loses.
This game within the game will determine in large part whether the Giants' vaunted pass rush, which is the strength of their defense, can put enough pressure on quarterback Mark Sanchez to disrupt the Jets' offense.
"That pass rush that the Giants have, that's a big, physical group right there, so that's going to be a huge matchup," Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
Pierre-Paul is a second-year defensive end who leads the Giants with 13 ½ sacks. Ferguson is the Jets' most reliable pass blocker who protects Sanchez's blind side.
The other critical matchup for the Jets' offensive line is on the opposite side, where right tackle Wayne Hunter, who has had repeated problems in pass protection, goes up against Justin Tuck, who has been in and out of the lineup with neck, groin and foot problems the last several weeks.
Ferguson has done a good deal of video work and he knows he has his work cut out.
"He's a good athlete," Ferguson said of Pierre-Paul, 22. "He's a young guy who has already had success in this league. With his long arms, he kind of reminds me of Muhammad Wilkerson. He's a rangy type player. Luckily, I have long arms, too, so that kind of cancels out the benefit, but I think it's going to be a good battle."
The Jets' inability to adequately protect Sanchez has been a problem. In games in which Sanchez is sacked twice or more, the Jets are 3-6 and Sanchez has thrown nine of his 13 interceptions. In games in which Sanchez has been sacked once or not at all, the Jets are 5-0, and he has just four interceptions. Cause and effect? Absolutely.
Pierre-Paul has a combined three sacks in his last two games, and he led the Giants with a whopping 16 tackles in last week's 23-10 loss to the Redskins. He keyed a dramatic 37-34 win over the Cowboys the week before with two sacks, one of which went for a safety, and a blocked field-goal attempt in the final seconds.
Sanchez has taken note.
"He's been having a heck of a year," he said of Pierre-Paul. "It'd be crazy to say you haven't noticed him. He's a great player. He finishes to the whistle and I think that's one of the biggest things, he's just relentless. We're going to have to play well, give a great effort and be real sharp."
Sanchez has been sacked 32 times this season, five more than last year's previous career high. He's tied for the seventh most sacks among NFL quarterbacks this season. In Sunday's 45-19 loss to the Eagles, Sanchez was sacked four times, including three by defensive end Jason Babin, who was lined up against Hunter. This time, Ferguson draws the Giants' best pass rusher, although Tuck is surely looking to take advantage of the inconsistent Hunter on the other side.
"[Pierre-Paul] works hard, and obviously, I want to make sure that everybody on our team is kept safe," Ferguson said.
That starts -- and ends -- with Sanchez. If Ferguson and his linemates keep him clean, then it's advantage Jets.