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Secondary Facing Tall Task in SD's Air Game


Simply stated, Sunday's AFC Divisional Round Game at San Diego will be a tough test for the Jets' defense.

The Chargers boasted the fifth-best passing attack this season, averaging 271 yards a game, and they haven't been held under 20 points in any game. The Green & White, on the other hand, were No. 1 in many categories against the pass, including allowing only 153.7 yards per game and eight TD passes all season.

"They're one of the best at passing the ball and we are the best at what we do in defending the pass," safety Kerry Rhodes told reporters on a conference call Monday afternoon. "It's going to be one of those games that's going to come down to if we want it or not."

The leader of the potent passing game is sixth-year quarterback Philip Rivers, who was tops in the AFC with a 104.4 rating and threw for 4,254 yards, 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season.

"He has an unorthodox delivery. He throws kind of sidearm," said Rhodes. "He can make all the throws — on the run, he can make checks — and put the ball in the right place."

Seventh-year tight end Antonio Gates is Rivers' favorite target.

The 6-foot-5 Gates has 79 catches for 1,157 yards and eight TDs and likely will be watched closely by Rhodes. For a three-week stretch, from Games 13-15, No. 25 was matched up against Kellen Winslow, Tony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark, some of the best tight ends in the game, who combined for 11 catches for 115 yards and one touchdown.

That TD was a crucial one, the game-winning catch by "Gonzo" in the Jets' 10-7 loss to the Falcons, which caused head coach Rex Ryan to consider changing the way his defense played opponents' TEs.

Instead of manning up against Clark the following week, the secondary played more of a zone defense.

"With Dallas Clark, we switched things up and I was freer to make some plays against all those guys," said Rhodes. "That's the thing with San Diego. They have so many guys that you can't just put [Darrelle] Revis on Jackson or me on Gates and say we're going to hold them down because they have other guys as well. We're going to have to mix things up."

"The biggest thing with them is they'll spread the ball all over the place," said safety Jim Leonhard, noting that Rivers "has a lot of big-time targets that he can distribute the ball to. He's an equal-opportunity quarterback. He's willing to throw it to anyone, it doesn't matter. Whoever is open, that's where the ball is going. It's really hard to get keyed in on him."

The Chargers also have one of the tallest receiving corps in the NFL. Vincent Jackson, one of their 1,000-yard pass-catchers, is 6'5", as are Malcom Floyd and Kassim Osgood, and Legedu Naanee is 6'2".

"It's definitely a challenge anytime you have a size disadvantage," said the 5'8" Leonhard. "You can't get in a bad situation. That is where they thrive. It's definitely a game where you have to be on top of your responsibilities. You can't be late. You can't be slow on anything."

"The challenge is going to be on us. They're big, they're tall," said the 6'3" Rhodes. "It's just like playing a basketball team with the guys they have out there."

To simulate guarding San Diego's big targets, practice squad members Marcus Henry (6'4", 212) and Britt Davis (6'3", 205) will be very important on the scout team this week in practice.

"It's tough to prepare. You're not going to have many people on your team that are that tall, but we have a couple in practice that can help us out," said Rhodes. "Maybe we can get Braylon [Edwards] to come over there and help out a bit."

Despite having two quality running backs in LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles, the Bolts are ranked next-to-last in the league in rushing, gaining just 88.9 yards per game. The Jets defenders expect them to try to go vertical this week just as they have all season.

"We know if they're going to beat us, the way they're going to attack us is by throwing the ball," said Rhodes. "We have to come out as a secondary and play well to get the job done."

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