Can Jets handle Chargers' receiving options?

Even if the Jets manage to take away Vincent Jackson, the Chargers still have Antonio Gates (85), Darren Sproles (43) and Malcom Floyd (80) in their offensive arsenal. Getty Images

Many league observers believe the New York Jets are candidates to upset the Chargers on Sunday in the AFC playoffs because of their defense.

Much of the New York optimism is because of shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis. He is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. He helps make the Jets’ defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the NFL during the regular season, special. He locks down opposing receivers.

He neutralized Cincinnati’s Chad Ochocinco in the wild-card round. That’s why many observers are giving the Jets a fighting chance to knock off San Diego, which has won NFL-high11 straight games, in the divisional round. Revis is likely up to the task of covering San Diego’s No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson.

But that’s where the Jets’ problems start. San Diego has many passing-game weapons in addition to Jackson.

“I think the Jets are going to be very surprised,” Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. said. “This isn’t one of those games where you shut down the top guy and forget about it. The Chargers are going to keep coming. It just starts with Jackson. ... San Diego is going to throw so many weapons at the Jets. They are not going to know what to do about it.

“San Diego will be able to neutralize Revis, because he can only cover one guy at a time. What is New York going to do about [tight end Antonio] Gates or [No. 2 receiver Malcom] Floyd or [No. 3 receiver Ledegu] Naanee or [running back Darren] Sproles? The Chargers have four or five receiving options. Those options are going to be a lot better than the Jets’ fourth or fifth cover options.”

San Diego is 13-3 and considered a legitimate Super Bowl candidate because of its deep passing offense. Engineered by fearless and often flawless quarterback Philip Rivers, San Diego will respect Revis and the Jets’ defense, which allowed just eight passing touchdowns this season. But the Chargers won’t be intimidated by the Jets.

They know they have way too many weapons. That’s the approach Jackson is taking against Revis.

“I see a talented, young football player. He’s had some success against some of the best receivers in the league,” Jackson told reporters in San Diego this week. “ I think part of that comes from teams try to say, ‘Hey, if you’re going to try to take this away, that’s fine because we should be able to beat you in other areas.’ I would love to have a great game against him, but if I don’t have 100 yards or something, I might only get the ball thrown to me twice, but that’s OK. We’ve got Malcom, [Naanee], Buster [Davis], Sproles, [LaDainian Tomlinson], Antonio. I’m not really focused on the one-on-one matchups.”

San Diego has had success using multiple options this season. When Jackson went through a four-game stretch in November and December in which he was held to nine catches, Gates took over. Floyd emerged in the second half as well.

“It’s really amazing what San Diego does,” Horton said.” All of their receivers are tall, big and fast. They all catch the ball in stride. ... Rivers does a great job of being willing to get to all of his receivers. He’ll find that fourth option. They are really difficult to stop because there is no way to stop them, really.”

Added Rivers: “I think as an offense you always want to go out and dictate to the defense, but at the same time, this defense, you’ve still got to be smart. You can try to line up and try to do whatever you want to do and they’re going to have a response to it. We’ll put together a plan that fits our personnel, that gives ourselves the best chance to succeed, and they’ll do the same.”

The following is a breakdown of some of San Diego’s top passing game weapons and how they could impact the game Sunday:

Vincent Jackson

  • 2009 key stats: 68 catches, 17.2 yards per catch average, nine touchdowns

  • Role: No. 1 receiver

  • Known for: Stretching the field and drawing double coverage.

  • What Horton says about him facing the Jets: “He’ll make Revis work. Jackson will cause the Jets to give him plenty of attention. That’s how he will ignite the San Diego offense.”

Antonio Gates

  • 2009 key stats: 79 catches, 1,157 receiving yards (career high) and eight touchdowns

  • Role: Tight end

  • Known for: Stretching the field and being a matchup nightmare.

  • What Horton says about him facing the Jets: “I don’t know what the Jets are going to do with Gates. They really have no one to cover him.”

Malcom Floyd

  • 2009 key stats: 45 catches, 17.2 yards per catch average

  • Role: No. 2 receiver

  • Known for: The 6-foot-5 Floyd is a great red zone target.

  • What Horton says about him facing the Jets: “He’s another matchup problem. If Revis has Jackson, no one is going to be able to cover Floyd.”

Legedu Naanee

  • 2009 key stats: 24 catches, 10.2 yards per catch average

  • Role: No. 3 receiver

  • Known for: He has great hands. He is a good third-down option.

  • What Horton says about him facing the Jets: “He’s versatile and the coaching staff really believes in him. I wouldn’t be surprised if they use him on some trick plays.”

Darren Sproles

  • 2009 key stats: 45 catches for 497 yards

  • Role: Running back/return man

  • Known for: Being an all-purpose yard eater.

  • What Horton says about him facing the Jets: “Watch for Rivers to hit him out of the backfield for some bubble screens. He is very good in open space. With all of the receivers going downfield, the Jets will have to account for Sproles on short passing routes. It’s just another reason why this passing game is so dangerous.”