There's little doubt that the Giants' secondary overall has been a better group with FS Kenny Phillips returning to fine form after a potentially career-threatening knee injury and with CB Aaron Ross coming back healthy after a season in which he was limited.
But it's becoming clear that with little or no significant contributions in some games from the linebackers, the Giants' defensive improvement starts with the D-line, a group that went from bedrock in 2007 and '08 to blemish last season. Injuries were a factor a year ago, but it also must be written that many players just didn't perform up to their abilities.
Two of them were DT Chris Canty and DE Osi Umenyiora.
Canty signed as a big-money free agent and was viewed as a versatile wrecking ball, both at tackle and end in some packages. Instead, he struggled to find a home in the team's 4-3 scheme after cutting his teeth as a 3-4 end, and many wondered if he wasn't a square peg in a round hole that should be shipped off to another team where his skills could work better.
This season, though, Canty has been excellent. He has been healthy after a calf issued nagged him most of last season and has helped anchor a run defense and a pass rush that has been back on track after the disastrous trip to Indianapolis in Week Two.
Umenyiora is having a Pro Bowl-caliber start to his season with eight sacks and seven forced fumbles prior to the Monday-night game. Everyone knows his story about not wanting to be a Giant anymore. But after Mathias Kiwanuka went down last month, Umenyiora raised his game to pre-2009 levels and has formed one of the most devastating DE duos along with Justin Tuck.
Another valuable piece has been DT Barry Cofield, perhaps the most unheralded member of the front four who is asked first and foremost to stop the run. Cofield almost was traded to the Saints in the offseason, a move that the Giants now are glad they didn't make.
The news on Kiwanuka, who is rehabbing a neck injury, has been foggy and not that great yet. But the team is holding out hope he can return at some point this season, which is why it has not placed him on injured reserve. He was the team's best defender through the first few games, and if he can come back healthy, this unit could be lethal.