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Broncos 26, Browns 23: Game Balls for Shaquil Barrett and the men in the trenches

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When you win in the trenches, you usually win the game.

Andrew Weber/Getty Images

While we all know the offense struggled Sunday against the Browns (and every Sunday so far this year), for once, the offensive line didn't. Peyton Manning wasn't sacked in Week 6; meanwhile, Denver's defense sacked Josh McCown five times, hit him four more times, and hurried him on 17 of his 39 dropbacks.

Each week, the MHR staff gives out Game Balls to the big performers of the Win That Was. This week, the men in the trenches get their due. But first, let's recognize a particularly stellar individual performance...

LB Shaquil Barrett

We've all known Shaquil Barrett is the real deal since his action in the preseason. Now he's shown us that he can do it as a starter. We didn't miss DeMarcus Ware one bit with a guy coming in and having the game of his career. 6 tackles, 3 assists, 1 1/2 sacks, 3 TFL, 2 QB hits, 1 pass defended, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery. That is a phenominal body of work to put together on the field. Your hard work is paying off, Shaquil. Congrats for getting my game ball and helping lead this defense to another big win. - Sadaraine

Offensive line

My gameball goes to the entire offensive line. Manning had another horrible game, but we can't blame the offensive line. Manning was not sacked and was only hit (according to ESPN) twice.  Manning had plenty of time to go through his reads, but made some horrible throws. When your QB has that kind of time, you praise the OL.  The running game (admittedly against a weak rushing defense) was the best it has been this year. We ran the ball 33 times for 152 yards without a huge gain. With the game on the line in our final game-winning drive, the offensive line generated some really nice holes. We gained 76 yards on that drive, 33 of them were on the ground (on 8 carries). The ability to run the ball on that drive won the game for us. The offensive line play was the reason we were able to run that ball on that drive. So, by extension, the offensive line won the game for us (can you tell I played offensive line?). - Joseph Mahoney

Defensive line

Derek Wolfe's return has seen the Broncos' defensive line look even better than they did in Weeks 1-4, which is kind of unbelievable. Malik Jackson continues to be a force - this week, he was a pass-rushing specialist, registering a sack and three hurries. And Sylvester Williams continues to eat up double teams - I'm guessing, since it was an early game, he skipped breakfast so he could feast on opposing blockers instead. - Monty

RB Ronnie Hillman

Ronnie Hillman had a breakout performance against the Browns defense rushing the ball 20 times for 111 yards.  He was quick and decisive in his cuts and showed the vision necessary to be the top back in the Broncos rushing attack.  The fourth year player was a breath of fresh air for a Broncos running game that had been stagnant all year long.  I am hopeful and confident Hillman can continue to play at a high level for the rest of the season. Kudos also go to the offensive line who performed well and had their best game of the year against Cleveland.  They too are a big reason for Hillman's success this weekend. - Christopher Hart

CB Aqib Talib

Aqib Talib's 63-yard pick six was his second this year, fourth as a Bronco and eighth of his career (the most of any NFL player since 2008). He also ties Tyrone Braxton and Mike Harden for Broncos players with the most TD-INTs in team history. But more importantly than these great individual accolades for the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, Talib's pick six on Sunday was 7 points on the board that had we not had, Broncos lose at the Dawg Pound (though, I'm so confident in this defense that if he hadn't gotten that touchdown, another defender would have stepped up to make sure the Broncos had a fighting chance).

- Laurie

Honorable mentions

  • I'm giving my gameball to my dog, Linus. He kept me from throwing things in my living room or having a heart attack. - Kelly Fleming
  • Brandon McManus for his clutch kick in overtime, in tough weather conditions and with the game on the line. He continues to impress with his confidence as well as his kicks. - Laurie
  • Emmanuel Sanders. I love this guy. He does everything he can to catch that ball, and most of the time he does it (in fact, I still think that "incomplete" was a catch, but what do I know). Sanders often saves Manning with the catches he makes, but he also complements him too by snagging that 75-yard touchdown play in stride to give the Broncos their first offensive touchdown in what seems like forever but is really just two games. - Laurie
  • David Bruton Jr. for his interception that stopped the Browns from any attempt at a game-winning drive on Sunday. Bruton's INT was among many defensive stops on Sunday and has been somewhat overlooked. But it shouldn't be. It was another huge play by another huge playmaker on the Broncos' defense this season. - Laurie
Who gets your Game Ball, Broncos Country? Tell us in the poll and in the comments.