Here’s what we learned from the Chargers’ 30-24 victory Sunday over Indianapolis:
Austin Ekeler is fully healed
Throughout the second half of last season, Ekeler was beaten up quite noticeably. But he looked like his old electric self Sunday. He scored three touchdowns, rushed 12 times for 58 yards and caught six passes for 96 yards.
“It’s his leverage,” coach Anthony Lynn said of Ekeler’s ability to break tackles. “He plays with outstanding leverage and, like I’ve said before, pound-for-pound, he is the strongest man on our team.”
Ekeler missed two games in December after taking a severe hit to the side of the head on an onside kick. He returned to play in the regular-season finale and both playoff games, but he didn’t quite look the same.
“He has been a playmaker for us over the last three years,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “I don’t think anybody was surprised with the plays he made [Sunday]. There is something, nobody can see unless you’re out there with him, that it’s just not too big for him.”
The Chargers’ run defense must improve
The Chargers were unable to stop Indianapolis for much of the second half and, most notably, in the final stages of the fourth quarter. A lot of the damage done by the Colts came on the ground as they gained 203 yards on 33 attempts, an average of 6.2 yards.
“We’ve got to stop the run,” Lynn said. “In the first half, we did a good job with that. We knew coming in -- they have said they want to be a top-five rushing team.”
Marlon Mack had 174 yards on 25 carries. It is worth nothing that linebacker Denzel Perryman, one of the Chargers’ top run stoppers, did not play and is being eased back into action because of knee and ankle injuries.
The Chargers’ young offensive line might have a chance
Rivers was sacked four times, but the offensive line did open enough holes for the running game to amass 125 yards on 21 carries, an average of six yards. Nine of the Chargers’ 25 first downs came on the ground. The Chargers also twice converted on third-and-short, something that had been a problem in the preseason.
Left tackle Trent Scott, in his second season and making his first start at the position, was beaten badly twice on one series in the third quarter. Both plays resulted in sacks, the latter also in a fumble, a fumble that Scott fell on. It was a somewhat uneven day, but the Chargers survived to win.
“Credit to the guys up front,” Rivers said. “There were some creases. They did a heck of a job blocking…. None of us played perfect. We all made mistakes, including the big turnover I had. But we all, collectively one through 46, chipped in and found a way.”
The Chargers need a greater killer instinct
They led by 11 at the half and by 15 in the middle of the third quarter, but the Chargers allowed Indianapolis to hang around and force overtime on a day that could have unfolded much more comfortably.
“They were down and I knew they were going to come out fighting,” Lynn said of the Colts in the second half. “We didn’t do a good enough job with getting our guys ready to go because we did not match their tempo or intensity. We’ve got to come out at 0-0 and ‘Let’s win the second half.’ That’s got to be our mindset.”
Indianapolis gained 243 total yards and punted only once after halftime. That punt resulted in a turnover when Desmond King muffed it.
“We gotta keep our foot on the pedal, man, put these guys away when we’ve got them in those situations,” safety Rayshawn Jenkins said. “We have to come out and play at a higher intensity.”
Ty Long’s great day was even greater
Before his first NFL game, the Chargers’ punter was on the field talking with Adam Vinatieri. By the time the day was over, it would have been tough to tell which one was the NFL’s all-time leader in field goals. Ty Long, filling in for the injured Michael Badgley (groin), kicked three extra points and a 40-yard field goal. Vinatieri missed two field goals and an extra point.
“It’s such a surreal moment for me,” Long said. “I remember being 10 years old watching him hit the game-winning kick in the Super Bowl. I’m over here chopping it up with this dude before the game. It was a really cool moment.”