"He's definitely one of the best," Rhodes said of the 6-4, 260-pound Gates, who caught 79 passes for 1,157 yards and scored eight touchdowns this season. "He's very athletic, plus he's a big, wide body. The reason he's so tough to cover is you can't put a small guy on him. A small guy can't use his quickness on him because he can [box] him out. If you have a big safety guy that can cover him and can try to limit his catches, it is probably the best way because he's such a big guy."
A week after celebrating the biggest victory of their season, the Jets will face their toughest challenge: stopping a high-powered Chargers offense that features a host of weapons.
San Diego, which won its fourth consecutive AFC West title, is averaging 28.4 points (fourth best in the league) and hasn't lost since Oct. 19.
Said Rhodes: "They're one of the best teams passing the ball and we're one of the best defending the pass. It's going to come down to who wants it more."
The Jets' top-ranked defense not only will have to stop quarterback Philip Rivers but will have to contain game-changing backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Plus, 6-5 wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd pose a significant matchup problem for the Jets' secondary. Rhodes, who is 6-3, 214, and 6-1 Eric Smith are the only defensive backs on the Jets' roster listed at 6-1 or taller.
"It's tough to prepare," Rhodes said when asked how the Jets plan to stop the Chargers' tall receivers. "We've got Marcus Henry [a practice squad wide receiver], who is a taller guy. We've got a bunch of guys that we can put out there. We can maybe even get Braylon [Edwards] to come over and help us a little bit.''
Safety Jim Leonhard, who is 5-8, said: "It's definitely a challenge any time you have a size disadvantage. You can't get in a bad situation. That is where they thrive . . . They like to throw the ball all over the place, and their quarterback is throwing as well as any in the league right now."
Unlike Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, Rivers is no rookie. In his sixth year, he has a 104.4 rating and has thrown for 4,254 yards and 28 touchdowns with nine interceptions. (Sanchez has 20 interceptions.)
The Chargers (13-3) also are the hottest team in football, winning 11 straight after a 2-3 start.
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