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South Florida Sun-Sentinel Palm Beach (Sunday) - - SPORTS -

the Colts have scored 10 touch­downs over the past nine quar­ters in which the Dol­phins don’t have one.

But don’t just put the Colts’ re­turn to the liv­ing in the NFL as Luck’s resur­gence. That’s the first les­son, sure. But there’s a larger one you’ll miss if that’s all you see.

“Fran­chises make quar­ter­backs,’’ Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh used to say, and the Colts are the lat­est ex­am­ple of that.

If the Colts have an ob­vi­ous star in Luck, they have a lesser-known one in gen­eral man­ager Chris Bal­lard. He’s so lit­tle known I have to keep look­ing up his name to as­sure it’s cor­rect. Let me check again. Yes, it’s Chris Bal­lard.

Bal­lard was faced with many sim­i­lar ques­tions as the Dol­phins’ front of­fice was this past off­sea­son. He needed Luck to stay up­right, just as the Dol­phins did Ryan Tan­nehill. That meant re­build­ing an of­fen­sive line in the way the Dol­phins try an­nu­ally.

Bal­lard traded down from the third over­all pick, took guard Quen­ton Nel­son with the sixth pick and right tackle Braden Smith in the sec­ond round. The re­sult: Luck, one of the most-sacked quar­ter­backs his first five years, hasn’t been sacked in five games.

Luck has been sacked just 10 times this year com­pared to the Dol­phins quar­ter­backs’ 27. One in Cincin­nati got Tan­nehill knocked out for five games he’s just re­turn­ing from on Sun­day. But then if the re­sults are dif­fer­ent so was the strat­egy.

The Dol­phins’ re­vamped by their line by sign­ing 32-year-old Josh Sit­ton. His de­te­ri­o­rat­ing body couldn’t fully prac­tice. The Dol­phins then started to curse a sea­son’s bad luck of in­juries when Sit­ton was lost the first game.

Tight end? The Colts signed free agent Eric Ebron, 25. He has 10 touch­downs. The Dol­phins drafted rookie Mike Gesicki, who hasn’t caught a touch­down pass.

At run­ning back, Bal­lard didn’t bring back Frank Gore, who played three years in In­di­anapo­lis. The Dol­phins signed him and Gore, 35, has been a fine ad­di­tion. But where’s the fu­ture in that? The Colts’ sec­ond-year back, Mar­lon Mack, and rookie fifth-rounder Jor­dan Wilkins have com­bined for seven touch­downs.

The de­fense has been up­graded with the likes of sec­ond-round rookie line­backer Dar­ius Leonard, who leads the league with 104 tack­les. But the way the Colts’ 14th-ranked de­fense has im­proved the most is by the of­fense putting up big num­bers.

This is the way it’s go­ing in the NFL. The Colts and Dol­phins faced sim­i­lar ques­tions last off­sea­son. Now they en­ter a Sun­day with both quar­ter­backs start­ing .

Luck is again a star in the game af­ter his fran­chise fi­nally de­cided to pro­tect him ac­cord­ingly.

Tan­nehill isn’t a star. At this point, he’s hop­ing to spark a quiet of­fense, get a win and keep his job.

Ev­ery­thing changes quickly in the NFL. The Dol­phins hope is their off­sea­son blue­print looks bet­ter af­ter an­other Sun­day than it does be­fore­hand.

[email protected]­tinel.com

ANDY LYONS/GETTY

Quar­ter­back An­drew Luck has helped the Colts of­fense av­er­age 36.5 points the last four games, all wins.

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