Mystery Men

The playoffs are when the stars come out. Football is a team sport, and a united and synchronized effort is essential, but this is the time of year when big-time players typically take games over. When Chargers fans think of star players, names like LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Donnie Edwards come to mind. However, these players have excelled all season long, and so successful outings by them will not key victory, but merely facilitate it.

What the Chargers need is for a player to step up and play beyond what everyone else believed was possible. There are many candidates on the Chargers roster to do just that. Kassim Osgood can create mismatches in the gold zone, and averaged over 20 yards per completion this season. Terrance Kiel has the power to help shutdown Curtis Martin, and the speed to make a big play in coverage. And Eric Parker has the elusiveness to make a difference on punt returns, something he has yet to do this season.

One player who will have to step up is Shane Olivea, along with the rest of his fellow offensive lineman. While the Chargers overachieving collection of youngsters and journeymen has played well this season, they will be tested by a Jets defensive line featuring four former first round selections, three of whom play the end position. This means Olivea, a rookie seventh round selection in the most recent draft, must continue to play beyond expectations if the Chargers offense is to be effective.

The Chargers other line will be tested as well. The Jets are a power team that likes to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage. Led by veterans Kevin Mawae, Jason Fabini and Kareem McKenzie, the Jets offensive line can dominate people. And while San Diego will counter on defense with a dominant Jamal Williams, he will be flanked on the Chargers line by rookie Igor Olshansky and second-year pro and former un-drafted free agent Jacques Cesaire. If the Chargers defensive line cannot shutdown the running game, they will be on the field all day. Not many people know about the quiet yet effective seasons Olshansky and Cesaire are having, but if the Chargers can win on Saturday, it will be due in large part to their efforts.

The bottom line is, the Jets are going to study the Chargers and attack their weakest points, and the Chargers need to be ready for that. If the Jets throw away from Quentin Jammer, then Drayton Florence or Sammy Davis (if he suits up) needs to make a play. If the Jets put eight men in the box on defense, then Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates need to be prepared to carry the load.

Playoff football is like a chess match, and the Chargers pawns has better be ready.

Tomlinson, Brees and Gates will all get theirs. Curtis Martin and Chad Pennington will get theirs too. On defense, Jamal Williams, Donnie Edwards and Steve Foley will make plays for the Chargers. For the Jets, Shaun Ellis, Sam Cowart and John Abraham will do the same. It is those other guys that will make the difference. These players are the ones opponents don't know enough about, until it is too late. If the Chargers can find some of these mystery men to step up this weekend, they will win the biggest game this franchise has seen in the last ten years.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@SanDiegoSports.net

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