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Three things we learned from the Colts’ win over the Chargers

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NFL: San Diego Chargers at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts defeated the San Diego Chargers 26-22 on Sunday. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):

A few skill guys step up

Overall, Andrew Luck had a pretty good day on Sunday outside of a couple of plays (though those plays were pretty bad turnovers), but the focus of the day offensively wasn’t on Luck despite his 331 yards, 64.9% completion percentage, and 8.9 yards per throw average. No, the focus of the day offensively was on a couple of the skill position guys: wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and running back Frank Gore. Earlier this week, Hilton guaranteed hat he’d improve and make plays and he certainly did that on Sunday. He helped carry the team offensively, catching eight passes (on eleven targets) for 174 yards and a touchdown - the game-winner with 1:17 left. The next-closest player in terms of receiving yards for the Colts was tight end Jack Doyle, who caught six passes for 65 yards. The next closest wide receiver? Phillip Dorsett with three catches for 27 yards. In fact, the other five players to catch a pass for the Colts on Sunday not named T.Y. Hilton recorded 157 yards. Hilton recorded 174 yards. Without Donte Moncrief to play on the other side of the field and facing one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks in Jason Verrett, T.Y. Hilton showed why he’s still such a dangerous receiver and put up a very impressive performance.

Hilton’s performance overshadowed Frank Gore’s performance, but we shouldn’t fail to mention what Gore did either. He rushed 21 times for 82 yards and a touchdown, averaging 3.9 yards per carry, his fifth-highest single-game rushing yards total in 19 games with Indianapolis. Gore had a tremendous first half and helped to carry the Colts’ offense to some production, as he rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on his first eleven carries (6.4 yards per rush). He added two more small rushes to end the first half with 13 carries for 73 yards and a score (5.6 yards per rush). The second half was a completely different story, however, as he rushed eight times for just nine yards (1.1 yards per carry). His last ten rushes of the day overall went for just 12 yards (1.2 yards per carry). Part of that might be the fact that Joe Reitz went out after the first half with a back injury and that forced Joe Haeg (who was looking good at right guard) to play right tackle, while another part of it might be that the Chargers were focusing on stopping the run. But whatever the case, Gore looked really good in the first half and I think that’s a really good sign for Colts fans wondering if Gore can still be a productive running back in the NFL. Granted, it was against a bad run defense, but there’s reason to be encouraged by Gore’s performance in the rushing game - as well as Hilton’s performance in the receiving game.

Maybe there’s some hope for the defense after all

Through the first two weeks of this season, the Colts were 0-2 and their defense was a huge reason why. The Colts had given up an average of 36.5 points per game in their first two games (though that wasn’t all on the defense), and had given up 424 yards per game, 26 first downs per game, 299 pass yards per game, and 125 rush yards per game. The Chargers, meanwhile, had one of the NFL’s best offenses through two weeks and were doing well both passing and running. They averaged 32.5 points per game in their first two contests, as well as 372.5 yards per game and 25 first downs - and, perhaps most importantly, 152.5 rushing yards per game. With Philip Rivers playing very well at quarterback (the best quarterback the Colts have faced yet this year), there was reason for concern regarding the Colts’ defense.

Instead, they stepped up in a big way. Bolstered by the return of cornerback Vontae Davis and defensive lineman Henry Anderson, the defense did everything the Colts could possibly have expected them to. They gave up just 22 points (and San Diego actually scored seven of those off of a defensive touchdown), 356 yards, and 17 first downs - all of which were below the season averages for both the Colts’ defense and the Chargers offense. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the defensive performance, however, came in the run game. The Chargers had rushed for 155 yards and 150 yards in the first two weeks, respectively, and the Colts had given up 116 yards and 134 yards in the first two weeks. Melvin Gordon had a very good start to the season, but the Colts shut him down on Sunday afternoon, as Gordon carried the football 16 times for just 35 yards and a touchdown - averaging 2.2 yards per carry! It was just the third time in the last seven years that the Colts defense has held an opponent to 37 or less yards rushing. Though Philip Rivers still threw for 330 yards, the Colts’ defense stepped up. The coverage was much, much better, their defensive line made some really good stops in the run game (such as David Parry, who had a real nice game), and Erik Walden even managed to notch two opportune sacks (in addition to two forced fumbles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit, and three tackles). This performance doesn’t erase the previous two games from memory, but it does indicate that perhaps when the Colts defense is at full strength that they won’t be terrible, so that’s certainly encouraging.

Colts are very much in the mix in the AFC South

The Colts have had a bad start to the 2016 season. They started 0-2 and were in a battle to win the game against the Chargers on Sunday, needing a fourth quarter comeback to pull it out. But the Colts got the win, avoided an 0-3 start that Chuck Pagano referred to as “doomsday” after the game, and put themselves very much in the mix again in the AFC South race. That’s probably a sign of how bad the division is more than anything else, but the Colts are actually in a decent spot. The Houston Texans lead the division with a 2-1 record, but they were just embarrassed by the New England Patriots on Thursday night. The Colts and the Tennessee Titans (who saw their comeback attempt fall short in the final seconds Sunday against the Oakland Raiders) are then tied for second place with a 1-2 record. And then in last place are the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have had a terrible 0-3 start to the year. The Colts will now travel to London to take on the Jaguars (who, with a bye week after week four might be considering a coaching change pretty soon), while the Texans will host the Titans next week. There’s a very reasonable chance that the Colts could win their next two (against the Jaguars and Bears) before a Sunday night game in Houston in week six. The Texans, meanwhile, have a tougher schedule coming up: after their game against the Titans next week, they’ll face the Vikings, Colts, and Broncos in consecutive weeks. So they’ll have to face arguably the NFL’s best two defenses this year and a key divisional game in a three week span, which isn’t easy. So even though the Colts are 1-2 on the year, the Colts are still absolutely in competition for the AFC South.