EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Dexter Lawrence's play in the interior of the Giants' defensive line has been so consistently excellent that even the teammate who lines up next to him admits he marvels at his friend's capacity to dominate.
"I do, actually," fellow lineman Leonard Williams said. "'Gamers play game' type of thing. Some of the stuff that I've been able to see him do this year has just been like, 'Whoa.' I've seen D-tackles do a swim move or do a rip move or do a long arm or do all these things that will get them free. I'm like, 'Okay, I've seen another D-tackle do that before.' Whereas, he's doing things that I'm just like, 'I've never seen any other D-tackle in this area do that.' It's like he's a one-of-a-kind type of player, a generational player, in my opinion."
Lawrence blossomed into one of the NFL's best defensive players in his fourth season. He is a first-time Pro Bowler, was named second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and was the first-team nose tackle on the NFLPA's inaugural Players' All-Pro team.
"It does mean more," Lawrence said last week when he received the latter honor. "It's people who know the game and respect the game and understand it. I think that's the best kind of recognition for your peers to vote on you." Lawrence is also a first-time Pro Bowler.
On Saturday night, Lawrence, his fellow linemen and the rest of the Giants' defense will face perhaps their biggest challenge of the season when they take on the high-scoring Philadelphia Eagles offense in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game in Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won the two regular-season meetings, including a Dec. 11 matchup in MetLife Stadium when they scored 48 points and gained 437 yards, the highest and second-highest totals, respectively, allowed by the Giants all season.
"The defensive line always takes the credit for everything," Williams said. "Whether we're not getting enough pressure on the quarterback, whether we're not stopping the run, we're going to put it on our backs at the end of the day. That obviously is not going to be enough going into this playoff game if we allow them to do that again. It takes all of us, though – not just the D-line, the whole front seven, safeties, everybody to stop the run. That's our goal this week is to try to make them one-dimensional and stop the run as early as possible."
They succeeded last week, holding the Minnesota Vikings to only 61 yards on the ground in the Giants' 31-24 victory in an NFC Wild Card Game. Lawrence was his normal disruptive self, totaling six tackles, four quarterback hits and eight pressures. Lawrence leads all defensive tackles with 62 quarterback pressures this season (including playoffs), and the 98 combined pressures between him and Williams are the most among all interior line duos, according to Next Gen Stats.
Lawrence's eight pressures at Minnesota set the NGS era record for pressures by a defensive tackle in a playoff game, while Williams finished the game with seven (tied for second-most, most recently by the Ram's Aaron Donald in Super Bowl LVI).
Lawrence led the Giants during the regular season with a career-high 7.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 28 quarterback hits.
"I think it's all credit to Dex," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. "He had a really good offseason, he was here all during the installs, he's smart, I think he enjoys playing in this defense and I said it when I took the job here that he should be a Pro Bowler. You could just see it in the kid himself. Then after I got to know him, I could've guaranteed you he's going to be that type of player because of how much he loves football, how much he loves his teammates, he's selfless and he's very accountable to everybody in the room.
"Every great defense has a centerpiece. You go back and look at the defense that we're building with the great defenses of the past, they always have a great centerpiece. And he has definitely become the centerpiece of our defense and I think it's awesome. I am so happy for him, proud of him, because he's a good person, he's smart, and he's worked his tail off. I think it's great when you see a player succeed who puts as much work in as he has."
Like Williams, rookie edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux has watched Lawrence's exploits up close.
"Dex has done just amazing," Thibodeaux said. "Just to see somebody that big be that fast, that explosive, that smart. It seems like he's right in the middle and there's not a lot for him to do and dissect, but just his ability to beat two people. There are plays that I laugh and joke with him because he scoots by two people. I call him, 'Scoot' because he just gets right past them. I try, but they just kind of pick me up and move me back. I told him before, I've never seen Aaron Donald play in person, but he's the closest thing that I've seen."
Williams missed both regular-season meetings with the Eagles, the first with a neck injury and the season finale because Brian Daboll rested his starters with the sixth seed locked up. Lawrence had his least-impactful game of the season in the 48-22 defeat last month – one assisted tackle, one quarterback hit and a season-low one pressure.
"We didn't play well, and they attacked us, they did a good job of that," Lawrence said. "We just have to play well and make less mistakes to be able to compete."
Based on his body of work this season, Lawrence will be ready to do exactly that.
View photos from the Giants' 31-24 Wild Card victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
*The Giants have just one player on their injury report. Linebacker Azeez Ojulari is questionable for the game with a quad injury he suffered last week in Minnesota.
*Williams on getting his first opportunity to play the Eagles this season:
"I'm looking forward to this one," he said. "I feel like their offensive line works well together, starting with (Jason) Kelce. He's a really good center. A lot of people call him the Tom Brady of centers because he knows protections. He just has feelings for pressure and blitzes and all type of stuff like that. Give him credit where it's due. He's a good guy, he's a good center. We're going to have to attack this offensive line."
*Daboll reiterated he typically doesn't say much to the team the team the night before a game.
"You say a lot during the week," he said. "You have meetings, and you go through game plans and show tape and do a lot of different things. And usually by Saturday night, or Friday night in this case, you've put all the work in. Your message – you should do a good job of messaging to the players during the week. And the night before the game, they've got to get ready to play. It's a little bit different because it's a later game. So, I'll probably even say less. And then the next morning, do a little bit of a walkthrough in the meeting rooms just to tie up some loose ends and get ready to play."
View photos from practice as the Giants get ready for the Divisional Round matchup.