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Three takeaways from Indy’s 31-24 loss to the Raiders

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Well... That was hard to watch. The Indianapolis Colts fell to 2-2 in an ugly performance against a struggling Raiders program. This game felt eerily familiar to the Colts’ 42-34 loss to the Jets in Week 6 of the 2018 season, where nothing seemed to fall into place for the Colts against an inferior team.

Let’s take a look at the key three takeaways from the underwhelming showing.

No. 1: Star players clearly missed on Sunday

The Colts were already fighting an uphill battle before the opening kickoff, as top performers in wide receiver TY Hilton (quad), linebacker Darius Leonard (concussion) and safety Malik Hooker (knee) all missed action due to injury.

The offense definitely missed its top weapon, as its more inexperienced receivers struggled to find separation from Oakland’s defensive backs and improvise when the pocket broke down for quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Speaking of No. 7, he certainly wasn’t as effective without his top wideout. After completing 71.7 percent of his passes with a quarterback rating of 112.0 through three weeks, those numbers dropped to 52.2 percent and 82.3 without No. 13.

Without its top two defenders, the Colts defense looked stumped against a quietly tricky Oakland offense. There were missed tackles left and right by the defense, and they allowed a season-worst 188 yards on the ground.

There’s a ton of games left to play, so the Colts are in the right making sure their top performers are able to play in as many games as possible. But, for a team that’s built on the foundation that no one player is more important to the team’s success, that mindset quickly changes when one player jumps to three.

No. 2: Drops, drops and... More drops

One of the more frustrating, self-inflicting occurrences on Sunday was the sloppiness of Indy’s wide receivers and tight ends. Five dropped passes were had by the offense, three from tight end Eric Ebron.

“It’s definitely lack of concentration,” Ebron said postgame. “It’s just mental. Just going through a drought. First time ever going through something like this where I had three drops in one game. It’s tough.”

Last year’s league leader in tight end touchdowns had just six drops in all of 2018, but was known for his inconsistent hands over the course of his four-year stint in Detroit. Two of Ebron’s drops would’ve converted first downs (an area in which the Colts only converted on 6-of-16 attempts) and the third was one play before rookie wideout Parris Campbell fumbled the ball away.

“I was s----ty.”

He wasn’t alone: Wideouts Chester Rodgers and young buck Deon Cain had one apiece. In a game that started off with Indy down a quick 14-0, that’s anything but the recipe on how to climb back into things. If five drops plagued the Colts as much as it did against a lowly Raiders squad, they’ll need to shape up and play pristine next Sunday when they play the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs.

No. 3: Khari Willis can handle a starting role all 2019

While there were far more negatives than positives this week, there was one under-the-radar positive that’s only the beginning of what could be a solid career.

Safety Khari Willis, starting over the injured Hooker, played a huge role on the back end of the Colts defense — tallying nine total tackles (eight solo), one tackle for loss and a pass breakup. In a game where the defense had trouble bringing guys to the ground and in which there were several miscommunications between teammates, Willis’ performance stood out all the more glaringly.

The 5’11” rookie is a versatile defender, playing all across the Michigan State secondary in college, and has a very strong sense of maturity and understanding of the game.

“He’s the guy the more you watch, the more you appreciate him, the more you like who he is,” Colts area scout Chad Henry said.”

Willis certainly made his name known in the preseason, but he really surprised Colts nation when he was second in total team tackles after playing only 29 snaps in Indianapolis’ 19-17 win over Tennessee. Now, thanks to Hooker’s injury, he’s had much more time on the field to showcase his talents.

It’s hard to say what Willis’ role will be when Hooker returns to the field a month down the road, but there’s a very good chance he could find himself lined up next to the former Buckeye as the two form one of the most intriguing young safety duos in the league.