Giants safety Xavier McKinney (29) blacks the pass by Washington...

Giants safety Xavier McKinney (29) blacks the pass by Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell (14) during the New York Giants versus the Washington Commanders at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023 Credit: Ed Murray

Normally defenses spend the week before a game studying the opposing offense, trying to figure out any tells or triggers that might help them once the contest begins. The Giants and the Jets have done that this week, too, putting each other’s offenses under the microscope for the typical inspection process.

But both also have been peeking.

The two defenses have been taking a look at each other, sizing each other up, trying to suss out what makes each of them work. Trying to see what exactly they are going to be going up against.

Trying to figure out who’s better.

Which one, in this town that admires scoring and likes touchdowns just as much as any but has always swooned over and adored a dominant defense, will become the Kings of New York.

That won’t be formally decided until sometime late Sunday afternoon when the two teams leave the MetLife Stadium field from their once-every-four-years regular-season meeting, with bragging rights and a wide-open future for the rest of the season in their haul. Leading up to the meeting, though, there was a knowing sense from both sides that victory on this day will be spelled with a capital D.

While the Giants and Jets have very different personalities and cultures and ways of going about their business, they share some particular characteristics this year. Each is relying on a backup quarterback, each is playing with a patchwork offensive line, each has a home run-hitting running back and each struggles to score offensive points.

As such, both rely on their defenses to win.

They do that in very different ways, too. The Giants blitz 41.6% of the time, third-most in the league, and the Jets blitz 18.3%, second-least. The Giants sow chaos and confusion. The Jets just line up and win their one-on-one battles.

None of that figures to be any different Sunday.

“They have a great defense,” Giants safety Xavier McKinney said. “Much respect to those guys. I know a couple of guys over there and I know what they are made of and how they play. But obviously, we have a pretty good defense, too. It’s definitely going to be a battle between the two defenses and we want to go out and be the best defense on that day. We’re challenging ourselves in that way and we hope to go out and execute.”

Over in the other locker room, they are convinced of the same theory . . . but with a slightly different outcome.

Jets edge rusher Bryce Huff said: “For the most part, we just focus on ourselves and what we can do to improve and get ready for their offense, but we all watch football, we see how many plays they are making and how good they are doing on defense. We definitely take that into account. But we train to get put in those situations and we train to handle that pressure. If the game comes down to being defense versus defense, I feel like we’ll be able to pull it off just because of how much we work.”

How each of the defenses feels about themselves is fairly well known by now. The Jets have been crowing about their unit since the preseason, when cornerback D.J. Reed set them up as history-chasers who want to be compared to the 1985 Bears and the 2000 Ravens, among others. They haven’t always lived up to that billing, but when they need to make plays, they certainly have a knack for it. This is a team that has allowed one touchdown in the second half all season, that created late fourth-quarter turnovers in each of the last two wins and potentially could have done so in three straight games if an interception against Kansas City had not been negated by a questionable penalty.

The Giants had a slow start to their defensive campaign with some ugly performances against the Cowboys, 49ers and Dolphins, but in the last two weeks, they have come together into a more complete package that has helped them come within a yard of beating the Bills and led them to a much-needed victory over the Commanders.

“Throughout the beginning of the season when we knew we were struggling, we tried to harness in and correct those areas of the defense, and I think we have such a good brotherhood on the defense that we really take pride in doing our job for the man next to us,” Giants defensive lineman Leonard Williams said. “When it’s something that we focus on and harp on, I think everybody takes pride in fixing it.”

Now they’ll face each other.

“When you talk about playing the Jets, I think it’s going to be real competitive,” Giants linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux said. “It kind of gives you that old-school feel of like a high school rivalry game, something like that. They’re a great team. They’ve got a great defense. We’re trying to outplay them and I know they’re going to try to outplay us.”

Not everyone likes the idea of defense versus defense being the deciding factor in this or any other game.

“I’m going to be honest; we love a full team game, obviously,” Thibodeaux said with a laugh. “We want it to be striking a match on both ends. We want to play complementary football. So if you ask me, we want our offense to go out there and score as many points as possible and keep us off the field. But obviously, when you have an opponent that has great other individual players, we have guys that want to match that standard and go show that we can make plays, too.”

Jets linebacker Jermaine Johnson subscribes to that thinking as well.

“I think we have faith on both sides of the ball,” he said. “I don’t think we go into the game and it’s only like, ‘I hope the defense plays good.’ I think it’s both sides of the ball have tremendous faith in each other. We’re just looking to put together a complete game and dominate on both sides.”

But if it does come down to the defense, does he have confidence they can win any game they play?

“Yeah,” he said. “100%.”

There is no telling what is going to happen Sunday. It’s a strange league. Every week there are teams that look to be dormant that suddenly blossom and teams that look dominant that suddenly fall apart.

“You never know how a game is going to play out,” Jets defensive lineman John Franklin-Myers said. “Shoot, it was five years ago now, but in the Super Bowl [when he was with the Rams and they faced the Patriots], we were scoring 40 points a game and then got to the Super Bowl and scored three, so nobody cares.

“At the end of the day, you have to play. I like playing football. I like being out there whether it’s 40 plays or 100 plays. Low-scoring, high-scoring. Doesn’t matter.”

Said Giants linebacker Micah McFadden: “We understand that we have to match that [Jets defensive] energy on our side of the ball. It’s important regardless of whether our offense scores 30 points or none, we have to play to a standard that can match and then beat whatever team’s offense or defense we are playing. If we keep that mindset, we’ll be where we want to be.”

Fifty-three years ago this week, on Nov. 1, 1970, the Giants and Jets played in the first regular-season game between New York’s two NFL teams. The Giants won, 22-10, at Shea Stadium, and owner Wellington Mara said afterward: “You’ve got to be champions of your own neighborhood before you try to conquer the world.”

That’s still the case.

Just as it’s still the case that the two organizations don’t particularly care for each other and continue to look askance at each other’s ways and methods. To the Jets, the Giants are stuffy and short-sighted and still cashing in on a nostalgia that should have expired long ago and has no bearing on today. To the Giants, the Jets will always be the expansion team in town trying to reinvent the wheel and creating more bluster than wins.

This year, though, they seem to agree that their best chance for victory in any game, and maybe even more so in this one than any other week, will come from their defenses.

“Every week we go in with the mindset we have to be the best defense on the field regardless of who it is,” McKinney said. “I know we’re playing the Jets and they have a good defense, but we’ve played other good defenses as well and kept that same mindset that when we go out there, we have to play better than the other side’s defense. That’s just the standard we hold ourselves to. We’re trying to be the best defense in the league. So every game we preach, ‘Let’s go out and be better than the other team’s defense.’ ”

The Giants and Jets both want to be the best defense on the field Sunday. Only one will take that crown.

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