From an industrywide perspective, U.S. auto sales look as graceful as a long completed pass to a wide receiver.
But at the brand and nameplate level, it's messy. Downright lumpy, actually.
And in 2014, the game is gonna get tougher. After four straight years of U.S. auto sales gains of at least 1.1 million annually, most forecasts call for growth in the mid-single digits.
In football terms, think fewer 49-42 shootouts and more 14-10 defensive slugfests.
New models in hot crossover and pickup segments may still be the big gainers, the downfield passes and power sweeps that produce the yardage.
But after a 2013 in which most sedan segments lost market share, small and mid-sized car sales are the runs up the middle.
These are the high-volume segments. Everybody has relatively new entries. Everybody has great products.
So every plunge into teeth of the defense is hard work. Your big linemen and power runner against their big linemen, vicious linebackers and slashing safeties. Three yards and a cloud of dust until one team imposes its will on the other.
As coaches and fans know, those line plunges normally don't produce much yardage but they set up the other plays. The team that controls the line of scrimmage usually wins.
That's how 2014 will play out on the ground. It ain't pretty in the trenches, but that's where the game is won.