The Giants defense is trying to reproduce legends and provide heroics of its own

The terrifying hits live in the tradition of the giants.

Jim Burt runs over Joe Montana to set up a pick-six in the 1986 NFL playoffs. Leonard Marshall comes from the blind side to poke Montana four years later. Jay Alford picks Tom Brady off his feet on the final drive of Super Bowl XLII in 2007. Justin Tuck spins Brady to the turf for a safety in Super Bowl XLVI in 2011.

Oh, and guys named Lawrence Taylor, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora did a lot to set up the Giants’ playoff winning scheme.

“Because of the legends that have passed, it is an honor to play here,” said captive Azeez Ojulari. “Seeing them around here, you know you have to play hard.”

Who’s next to snap a quarterback? The Giants have the pass rushers to break up plays, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale calling disguised schemes to send free rushers to the quarterback and an opponent Sunday in the Vikings with three offensive linemen injured, including starting right tackle Brian O’Neill.

Azeez Ojulari, left, and Leonard Williams
Azeez Ojulari, left, and Leonard Williams will make their playoff debuts.

“From the day we put together what we were hoping to build on defense, it was that offensive mindset,” outside linebackers coach Drew Wilkins said. “We will dictate the attack, not the other way around. Every player who gets off the bus knows, “We’re the New York Giants and we’re going to punch you in the mouth.” It’s been good for us and we’ll continue with that approach.”

Ojulari, rookie Kayvon Thibodeaux, Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence combined for 19.5 sacks in the regular season. It’s not a dominant number, but it takes perspective: The quartet played fewer than 60 snaps combined in 17 games because of injuries to Thibodeaux, Williams and Ojulari. Now, it’s time to get the poison.

“I think this is a top-five defensive line in the league,” Giants All-Pro left tackle Andrew Thomas said. “I’m glad we don’t have to block them now because Dex is ridiculous in the middle and then you have these edge guys coming up. The biggest key is to have them all on the court at the same time: Someone is going to win [his matchup].”

Thomas is not alone.

“I’m thankful we don’t have to play against them,” said quarterback Daniel Jones, who was sacked 44 times.

Lawrence and Williams enjoy playing side-by-side so much that they acknowledged the urgency before the season.

“If we want to stay together,” Lawrence told Williams, “we have to play well and we have to win.”

Some coordinators with those four high draft picks up front will throw extra bodies in coverage against the explosive trio of Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen and TJ Hockenson. Not Martindale, who called the highest blitz percentage (39.7%) in the league and vowed not to change his ways just because the Vikings took advantage of some blitz-beaters that topped the Giants on Christmas Eve.

“Whether it’s a division team or a team we’ve played twice, Wink always wants to show one look and then show the opposite of that look the next week,” Wilkins said. “It might be, ‘Hey, it’s great that we dealt with these pressures that worked last time, but here’s the thing that could also cause them problems that they might not have expected.’ The beauty of this thing with Wink is that we’re not limited to “Here’s what we did last time.” ”

Lawrence had seven quarterback pressures against center Austin Schlottmann in the last game. With starter Garrett Bradbury back to challenge Lawrence, he could drop to tight end to attack right tackle Oli Udoh in his second start of the season. Ojulari totaled 5.5 sacks in just seven games and Thibodeaux had two of the biggest plays of the season – strip sacks against the Ravens and Commanders.

“This is an unselfish group,” Williams said. “There are a lot of times in certain packages or pressures where you just know the project isn’t designed for you, but at the same time you know you have to do your job to make it work for someone else.”

Dexter Lawrence makes a tackle during the Giants' regular season loss to the Vikings in December.  24
Dexter Lawrence makes a tackle during the Giants’ regular season loss to the Vikings in December. 24
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The pass rush will have more time to get to quarterback Kirk Cousins, too, given the returns of cornerback Adoree’ Jackson from a seven-game absence and safety Xavier McKinney (one game played since Halloween) should mean tighter cover.

“They obviously create a lot of pressure and make our jobs extremely easy,” McKinney said. “We know they’re going to do their job and they’re going to do it very well, so we just have to do ours.”

Strahan recently shot a promotional video for the Giants’ “Our Way” playoff slogan. The Giants’ Way involves pass rushers dominating the playoffs.

“They’re making everything go,” center Jon Feliciano said. “Defense wins championships, I hear. I think our defense lives up to that caliber.”