When Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers puts one of his patented "jump ball" passes in the vicinity of 6-5 Vincent Jackson, 6-5 Malcom Floyd, or 6-4 Antonio Gates in Sunday's divisional-round playoff game, it stands to reason that they'd have a better chance of coming down with it than any member of the Jets' secondary.
Or does it?
One of the Jets' cornerbacks, 5-11 Darrelle Revis, has demonstrated time again this season that he's more than capable of handling the challenge of one-on-one coverage against taller receivers. He had little problem with New England's 6-4 Randy Moss or New Orleans' 6-4 Marques Colston or Buffalo's 6-3 Terrell Owens or Houston's 6-3 Andre Johnson.
Revis, who gave up an average of fewer than 30 yards per game to opponents' No. 1 receivers during the season, held Chad Ochocinco to two catches for 28 yards in the Jets' wild-card victory at Cincinnati. The third-year corner has established himself as arguably the NFL's best at his position. He was in strong contention for league Defensive Player of the Year, and many people around the NFL -- including Jets coach Rex Ryan -- thought Revis was done a terrible injustice when the honor went to Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson.
Ryan and New York's defensive coaches are expected to make that argument even stronger by entrusting Revis with the mammoth assignment of covering Jackson, who ranked second on the Chargers with 68 receptions for 1,167 yards and nine touchdowns. At least one assistant coach from one of the Jets' AFC East opponents thinks the strategy will work well.
"They'll erase the receiver with Revis," the coach said. "He's that good. This guy totally eliminates the receiver. You put him on him, and it's over with."
However, even if Revis manages to shut down Jackson, the Jets' coverage problems won't necessarily be solved. They still have to worry about Gates and Floyd, and that's where the fun begins.
X-factor: Braylon Edwards
The Jets are expected to have their safeties, 5-8 Jim Leonhard and Rhodes, attempt to get physical with Gates, who routinely outmuscles any safety attempting to blanket him. But even if the Jets succeed in limiting Gates, who led San Diego with 79 catches for 1,157 yards and eight touchdowns, they'll be leaving Floyd (45 catches, 776 yards, and one touchdown) one-on-one with 5-10 Lito Sheppard.
At some point, single coverage is going to allow Rivers to connect for a big play ... or two ... or three.
Another issue, according to the AFC East assistant coach, is that because the Chargers line Gates up wide like a third receiver, it'll force the Jets to reveal their blitz intentions sooner than they'd prefer. Disguising blitzes, something that the Jets try to do on every snap, is much harder against a spread formation because linebackers and safeties have to be in position for coverage and can't hide whether they're going to blitz or cover. That's a distinct advantage for Rivers as he makes his pre-snap reads.
"Now, they can still blitz," the coach said. "But San Diego's going to have big-play opportunities. If you double cover Gates, who covers (running back Darren) Sproles out of the backfield? He's a guy who can kill you."
It's a dilemma that all Chargers opponents have faced. And it usually doesn't work out very well for them, because Sproles is tied with Floyd for third on the team in receptions.
The height advantage is an issue, enough that Rhodes spoke with 6-3 Braylon Edwards about taking a little time to work against the starting defense in practice so the secondary can get used to defending against a taller receiver.
"The receivers can out-jump them, but a guy like Revis still has tremendous athletic ability and body control to get off his feet and make plays," the AFC East assistant coach said. "The biggest thing they can do is try to outmuscle them. But it isn't like every time (Rivers) throws a pass, they don't have a chance of getting the ball. They do, especially if they're in the right position. He isn't going to be throwing a 'jump ball' every time."
Most of those throws will come when the Chargers are in the red zone. But that isn't the easiest place to complete passes.
"First of all, you've got to get down there, and that isn't going to be easy against the No. 1 defense in the league," the coach said. "Second, it's a constricted area. Sure, if you throw a fade, the receiver can out-jump his guy. They can outmuscle you some, but the way to deal with that is to be physical, and I think, even if they're not the tallest DBs, the Jets have got some physical guys back there."