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These Giants are no dummies. They wouldn't allow themselves to be drawn into any spitting matches by Bruce Smith's rousing campaign speech.

And Thursday, they were careful not to say anything remotely negative about the Buffalo offense.

After all, they've had several days to view the game films and are genuinely impressed by what they've seen.

"Oh, it's scary. It's so damned scary," said fifth-year defensive back Mark Collins. "Look at the guys they have. Like Thurman Thomas. I saw him in that game against the Jets. What did he have, more than 200 yards? I said, 'Man, I've got to play against this guy.' Then there's Andre Reed, Lofton . . . "

"There's no doubt about it," Collins said. "All-around, as a total package, they have as good an offense as San Francisco."

That's high praise, indeed. But as the Giants' defenders can attest from their film sessions, the Bills didn't get to be the top scoring team in the NFL (and by a fairly wide margin) by accident.

In Jim Kelly, Buffalo has the league's top-rated passer. Thurman Thomas leads the NFL in rushing and receiving yardage. Andre Reed leads the AFC in receptions. Now all the Giants have to do is stop them.

"It's definitely a challenge to us," said former Pro Bowl linebacker Carl Banks, "because it's a very high-powered offense. And if you don't keep it under control, it'll get out of hand in a hurry. They put up a lot of points and they can do it in the bat of an eye. We have to keep the tempo kind of slow, because if we don't, it's out of hand."

The Giants have a simple defensive motto: "Dictate terms and tempo." You dictate by playing aggressively, forcing turnovers and preventing top offensive players from breaking big plays.

As the numbers would suggest, the 11-2 Giants have been awfully good dictators this season. They have allowed the fewest points in the league (163). Seven times they've held an opponent to 10 points or less. Only one team (the Eagles) has scored over 20 against them. Opponents are averaging 9.7 yards per pass reception, by far the lowest in the NFL.

Above all else, the Giants' defense has shut down the opposition's top offensive stars. Just look at the dreadful days some of the league's biggest names have suffered against the Giants this year:

Joe Montana, 12-29 passing, 152 yards; Roger Craig 9 rushes, 21 yards; Jerry Rice, 1 catch, 13 yards; Dan Marino 14-30, 115 yards, 2 interceptions. So, despite a respect for the Bills' attack, it's not as if the Giants have never stifled a highly rated offense before. At any rate, it's the top-scoring offense vs. the stingiest defense Saturday.

"I think they're very strong, one of the top two or three teams in football right now," said Giants head coach Bill Parcells. "They're a very high-scoring team and that concerns you. They've been able to score against everyone. And they've improved during the year.

"They make you prepare for a lot of things," Parcells said, "but it isn't a finesse offense. It's not built on that. They don't seem concerned with fooling you as much."

That's not to say the Giants aren't worried about the Bills' no-huddle offense, which has worked so effectively in recent weeks. They practiced against it Thursday. But Parcells said the no-huddle takes away from your running game, and there is a sense here that Saturday's game will be won by the team best able to establish a ground attack.

"As a defense, I know we have to go out and take away the run," said nose tackle Erik Howard. "That's always our No. 1 goal. If we can do that, we're in the ideal situation, which is them having to throw the ball."

When discussing Buffalo's offense, the word you hear most often in the Meadowlands is "balance." The Giants realize that taking away the ground game is the way to unsettle the Bills' remarkable run-pass balance.

"They have just about the same personnel as in the past," Banks said. "The knock on them was they had a lot of talent but just couldn't put it together and win. What I see now is a team that's very in synch with their offensive system, a team that seems to have a great deal of unity."

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