Title Track: Compairing the 86 & 05 Defense

The question was first raised in the moments after the Giants' 17-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys, when they finally took control of the NFC East. It was their defense that won that game, bailing out a sluggish offense and saving an awful Eli Manning. It was the defense that put them in first place for the first time in five years.

And since it was the defense that had been carrying the Giants since the bye week, the question had to be asked: Is this defense good enough to lead the Giants all the way to Super Bowl XL? Is it truly a championship defense?

The 2005 Giants would like to think so.

The 1986 Giants aren't so sure.

The members of the '86 defense – the Big Blue Wrecking Crew that led the Giants to Super Bowl XXV – are the franchise's resident experts on a "championship defense." No one is more qualified than they are to decide if the 2005 defense has what it takes. And so far they like what they see out of the current Giants.

But they still need to see a little bit more before they welcome the current group into their elite class.

"I think what they have going for them right now is great team defense," former Giants linebacker Carl Banks said. "I think the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, because when you break down this defense you can probably find some deficiencies at each position. But collectively, they've been able to mask them by playing good team defense."

"I like their team a little bit on defense," former Giants defensive end Leonard Marshall added. "But I feel they could be a little more physical."

The truth is, this current defense has done many good things. In the last seven weeks, it has pitched one shutout, held three teams without a touchdown, and carried a struggling offense to first place in the NFC East. It has held four opponents under 210 yards this season – the Indianapolis Colts are the only other team to turn that trick.

They also have arguably their best run defense since 2001, which was the last time the Giants held opponents to an average of less than 100 yards rushing. And in Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora, they have the best pass-rushing tandem since '86 when Lawrence Taylor and Marshall combined for 32.5 sacks.

But there is still something missing. This team doesn't have the same swagger the '86 team has. It's not as intimidating as the '86ers were, either.

"In our defense, when we played, if it was 3rd and 2, they were throwing the ball because they knew they couldn't get two yards on us (on the ground)," former nose tackle Jim Burt said. "It's about attitude. You've got to have pride. It's a man's game. It's a physical game. At 3rd and 2, 'OK, you want to run the ball? Try and run the ball on us. Let's see who can muscle up.'"

"Most great championship defenses are very intimidating," Banks added. "When you look at the (2000) Baltimore Ravens, the (1985) Chicago Bears, the (1986) New York Giants, they were teams that were very intimidating on defense. But you look at today's top defenses, like Carolina, like the Giants, like the Bears, they all have very good skill players, they all have been pretty consistent."

"(Intimidation) is an inherent quality. Not all teams have it," Banks continued. "That doesn't mean they're not championship defenses, though."

Actually, Banks said the Giants' current defense is an intimidating unit – just not in the same way that the '86 defense was.

"There are several types of intimidation," Banks said. "When you step on the football field as an offensive player, you're either fearing the physicality, you're fearing the mental intimidation or you're fearing the athleticism. When you face this Giants defense, especially up front, you're not fearing the bully factor. You're fearing the skill set of an Osi Umenyiora or Michael Strahan. Neither one of those guys are Reggie White. They're not a big intimidating factor like that. But their skill set is enough to keep offensive coordinators up all night."

Actually, Marshall wasn't even willing to go that far when talking about the Giants' current defensive line. "I think as good a player as Michael Strahan has been in the system on a four-man line," Marshall said, "I don't think he or they could have ever matched up to what George Martin and I accomplished in a three-man line."

That argument could easily have been made early in the season when the Giants' pass rush was non-existent and the defense was struggling. The secondary was being ripped apart on a routine basis and, in the third week of the season, Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson lit them up for 192 rushing yards.

"What I said at the beginning of the year was 'It's a shame,'" Burt said. "'The Giants have never had a great offense. Now they've got a great offense and the defense is bad.' But I was shocked at the turnaround they made. They've turned it around so fast, I can't believe it. Really, now it's fun to watch."

Burt may be the most optimistic of the '86ers. He insists, "This is a Super Bowl team. I really believe that." But his belief is based on what he sees from the Giants' offense. "The Giants have never had weapons like that," he says. "Never, ever."

On defense, Burt likes the Giants' attitude and their attacking style, but he worries that their secondary might be the one weakness the defense can't overcome.

"I don't know enough about the defensive backfield just yet, so I don't know that they can be a championship defense," he says. "I like how the defensive linemen and linebackers are moving around. I think they can get to the quarterback. I just don't know if the coverage is good enough."

Over the next few weeks the Giants will find out if any part of their defense is good enough to get them all the way to Super Bowl XL. And only if they get there and win it can they truly be talked about as a championship defense.

Until then, 1986 will remain the standard for the franchise.

"That's a good thing," Banks said. "That's how you should look at football. If you don't have anything to compare, you start to cheer for watered-down things. If you don't have standard bearers then you're going to allow mediocrity to be looked at as great."

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