Quarterback Joe Flacco spent much of the first half of the season on the run.
The Ravens offensive line went through some early-season struggles and had a hard time keeping him clean. The unit eventually replaced three starters from last year's Super Bowl team, and went through some growing pains along the way.
Now the group is coming together for the final stretch of the season, and left tackle Eugene Monroe has much to do with keeping Flacco upright.
"I'm as comfortable as can be," Flacco said. "I think [Monroe is] doing a great job."
Monroe has come on strong in recent weeks and been one of the best performers of the entire offense. According to the statistical analysis website Pro Football Focus (PFF), Monroe has graded as the Ravens' best offensive player the last two weeks in victories over the Steelers and Jets.
"I've been playing some solid ball," Monroe said. "I'm just working at getting better every day, even throughout the games.
"He continues to get better," Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell added. "He is finally getting a sense of all the things that we do. He has a good feel for it. He's had the opportunity to go through the gamut within the new system, and I think the communication is certainly better as well."
The Ravens acquired Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars Oct. 3 in exchange for a fourth-and fifth-round pick in the 2014 draft. He took a week to learn the system and then replaced veteran Bryant McKinnie in the starting lineup.
McKinnie ended up getting traded to the Miami Dolphins and Monroe has started the last seven games. He had to quickly learn the offense and was thrown into the fire.
"The first couple of games I would get calls on the field, and even though we worked to catch me up to speed on everything, there's stuff installed that might just come up, and you'd have to ask the guy next to you, 'Hey man, what do we got?'" Monroe said. "You need that communication anyway, but it can slow down your play a little bit."
The other challenge Monroe had to deal with was the transition at left guard, as A.Q. Shipley took over once Kelechi Osemele went on injured reserve with a back problem. Not only did Monroe have to learn a new system, he also had to develop chemistry with two different linemen.
He and Shipley have now played together for the last six games, and the rapport is showing with improved protection for Flacco. The quarterback faced pressure 13.2 times per game through the first nine weeks of the season, and that number has dropped to 11.3 times the last three weeks, according to PFF.
"I've had a little bit of consistency here of late, with having Shipley next to me every play," Monroe said. "We're growing and getting better together."
With Monroe's impressive play over the last few games, some pundits have started to speculate that he could be the long-term solution at left tackle. The Ravens have been looking for a lasting blindside protector since Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden retired in 2007 – McKinnie and Michael Oher each had stints – and Monroe is currently in the final year of his contract.
The Ravens could try to work out a new contract for Monroe in the offseason, and he expressed hope that he will remain in Baltimore for years to come.
"It would be difficult to go through a change like this early in the season, come here, get established, then go somewhere else," Monroe said. "It's a great organization here. There are great people here that I love coming to work with every day. But right now really isn't the time to worry about that kind of thing. We've got four games to win to extend this season."