Brian Hoyer and the offensive line have spurred success for the Cleveland Browns so far in 2014. The addition of Karlos Dansby and the elevated play of Paul Kruger have been the lifeblood of the defense.
But there are several players who may just blend in during the highlights, but are truly imperative to why the Browns are 3-2 going into Sunday's game at Jacksonville.
1) Chris Kirksey
Stats: 23 tackles, 1 pass defended
Analysis: According to ProFootballFocus.com, Kirksey has played in 242 defensive snaps, good for 48.4 per game. For a third rounder who was supposed to be mainly a special teams contributor as a rookie, that's an astronomical amount. Kirksey has been a stalwart marking tight ends and even receivers in coverage. He's a sure tackler who has some pop in his hits and he's not playing like a 22-year-old rookie.
2) Gary Barnidge
Stats: 5 catches, 54 yards
Analysis: There is a reason the Browns feel comfortable using their three tight end formation, a set most teams think is ancient. Barnidge is clobbering people as a blocker in both the run and pass game. See the vine below. Jordan Cameron's 51-yard touchdown doesn't happen without Barnidge's block right in front of Hoyer. And who could forget his four clutch catches back in Week 2 against the Saints. Barnidge is the definition of underrated.
3) Miles Austin
Stats: 18 catches, 198 yards, 2 TDs
Analysis: Why was this guy a free agent in May? Other NFL teams were scared to take a chance on Austin's hamstring and the Browns lucked out getting the former Pro Bowler. Even with number one cornerbacks matched up on Austin, the 30-year-old has still been a highly productive member of the Browns' offensive attack. Imagine the kind of open looks Austin will get when All-Pro Josh Gordon returns to the lineup in November.
4) Jim Dray
Stats: 9 catches, 91 yards, 1 TD
Analysis: He's got sure hands. He's a red zone target. And if the defense gives him space to operate, like the Steelers did in Week 6, Dray can make you pay. His 31-yard reception did more than just advance the ball down the field for the Browns; it makes linebackers have to think twice when Dray runs out for routes.
5) Mitchell Schwartz
Analysis: Anyone who was piping Schwartz as the weak link of the offensive line has now gone silent. We touched on who he was obstructed as a blocker in last week's offensive line piece, but that list is long and growing by the week.
6) Craig Robertson
Stats: 11 tackles
Analysis: The addition of Kirksey has allowed Robertson to play the role he's more suited for: stuffing the run. Last Sunday when the Steelers were sitting on the goal line, Robertson spoiled their effort with a key third-down takedown of hefty running back LaGarrette Blount. In short yardage situations, there are not many more reliable and effective linebackers in the AFC than Robertson. Plus, he's been a special teams stud, too. His awareness to be in position for the tackle after the Steelers botched field goal flipped the momentum of the game.
7) Marlon Moore
Stats: 2 tackles, averaging 27 yards per kickoff return
Analysis: We almost want to nickname Moore "Jet" for the way he flies down the field on kick and punt return coverage. Like his teammate Tank Carder, Moore's rip downs on return men normally get the crowd going and give the defense energy to feed off of.