You can easily make a case for the Ravens offensive line being an appropriate metaphor for the entire team in 2017.
In fact, I do believe I'm going to make that case.
Before the season, the line suffered so many subtractions, mostly due to injury, that it was fair to wonder whether it could possibly meet any optimistic projections for the season.
The same could be said for the entire team. "We're just trying to survive all these injuries," one of the Ravens' decision-makers grimly told me during training camp.
Once the season began, the patched-together line had good days, when the running game flourished, but also bad days, when no holes opened and Joe Flacco took a beating.
The whole team also experienced a similar blend of good and bad days, resulting in a 4-5 record at the bye.
But the line eventually got healthier, kept grinding through practices and raised its level of play. In the Ravens' past four games, Flacco has been sacked just three times while the rushing game has averaged 122.2 yards, a figure that would rank in the top 10 in the league over the whole season.
The Ravens as a whole also have played better recently, winning four of five games to put themselves on the inside track for a wild-card ticket to the AFC playoffs.
I would even go so far as to suggest the offensive line's personnel and approach reflect the entire team. The Ravens have well-known pieces (Flacco, Terrell Suggs), as does the line (Ronnie Stanley, No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 draft), but for the most part, both groups are largely composed of unheralded guys, their recent successes a testament to a heads-down work ethic and stay-the-course attitude as much as anything.
The starting guards really sum it up. James Hurst made the Ravens' roster as a rookie free agent in 2014. Matt Skura spent 2016 on the practice squad as a rookie free agent, and he was waived in September before being re-signed. Those aren't fancy biographies, but both guards are playing with a rumbling intensity these days.
The center, Ryan Jensen, is a fourth-year player but a first-year starter, and he only got the job when John Urschel retired in July. But he has made headlines with his combativeness, and the Ravens feel he could be a long-term solution.
The tackles have better pedigrees, with Stanley among the best young linemen in the league and veteran right tackle Austin Howard possessing a healthy salary-cap hit.
Overall, though, it's not a buzzworthy group – until you watch them on film, according to Chuck Pagano, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, who play the Ravens Saturday.
"You look at that offensive line, and they are doing a great job," Pagano said. "Obviously, they are extremely well-coached and they have good players across the board. They are big, they are strong, they are physical, they are athletic. They can move people off of the line of scrimmage. They are doing a great job of protecting Joe, and again, they are running the ball extremely well. It is easy to put on the film, and they get your attention in a hurry. They are nasty. They are what you want in an offensive line."
That might be the Ravens' most important pleasant surprise of 2017. I wasn't the only one who wrote that the season might be in jeopardy after All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda suffered a fractured ankle in Week 2; between that, Urschel's retirement and the loss of starting guard Alex Lewis to a shoulder injury, it just seemed to be too much adversity for the O-line, which any team needs.
But Joe D'Alessandris, a 39-year coaching veteran in his first season as the Ravens offensive line coach, deserves credit for pulling the group together and getting it to function so adeptly. Greg Roman, the senior offensive assistant, hired to bolster the running game, also has had a role. Mostly, though, the players themselves deserve credit. It's not quite accurate to say the Ravens will go as far as their line takes them, but it's an asset now, unmistakably, and a crucial part of any winning blueprint. If no one could have imagined that a few months ago, well, sometimes stuff happens … good stuff.