While recent NFL rule changes have forced defenses to become softer to promote more scoring, one rule that the NFL can’t change is the mindset of a defense. On Monday, linebacker Brandon Marshall made one thing clear: the Denver Broncos defense will prepare like a defense from the 1970s, not 2016.

After a 21-20 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night, many criticized the play of the Broncos defense, saying that their play went over the line and was “dirty.” Marshall quickly played off the defense being dirty, but had another vicious word to characterize the group.

“We are a malicious group, but we’re not dirty,” Marshall said.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one definition of malicious is: addicted to sentiments or acts of ill will; full of hate. Compared to the definition of dirty — acquitted by disreputable or illegal means — the major difference of the two is that one is legal, malicious, while the other is illegal, dirty.

“To me, dirty is intentional,” Marshall said. “One time I was in college and I made a tackle and there was a pile. I saw a player from Utah State run around the pile — I’m on the ground still — he ran around, he grabbed my ankle, he twisted it and stepped on it — that’s dirty. We don’t do stuff like that.”

Although helmet-to-helmet hits in the NFL are not allowed, Marshall thinks the hits to quarterback Cam Newton’s head in Thursday night’s game are being blown out of proportion.

“Just because we hit Cam [Newton] in the head a few times, that doesn’t make us dirty,” Marshall said. “Look at some of the dirty players in the league, there are a lot of dirty players, and that’s not our M.O. (modus operandi).”

Even though helmet-to-helmet hits, and many other vicious hits, typically draw 15-yard personal foul penalties, Marshall — a veteran leader on the defense — would encourage his teammates to never stop playing at the fast-speed that they are used to playing, even if it draws penalties throughout the season.

“It’s hard [to turn it off and on], I wouldn’t advise anybody to turn it off at any point in time. I guess you just have to lower your target,” Marshall said.

Marshall isn’t the only Broncos player ready to defend the integrity of the defense. Safety Darian Stewart, who was criticized for his hit on Newton late in the fourth quarter, thinks the Broncos play a more physical style of football than other teams are used to.

“I think we got a physical group of guys and I guess that’s what comes with it,” Stewart said. “We are just aggressive, at the end of the day there is nothing dirty about it, we play whistle to whistle and it’s just football.”

Stewart admitted that playing a more physical brand of football, that people aren’t use to, is probably responsible for why outsiders think the defense is dirty. However, Stewart echoed Marshall that the Broncos never try to hurt opposing players.

“At the end of the day all you are doing is playing football. You really aren’t out to injury someone, you really just playing ball and just trying to make the tackle and making sure they are down,” Stewart said.

Even after a weekend full of criticism for both Stewart and the Broncos defense, Stewart had no doubt that the mentality of the defense will stay the same. When asked if the defense will change, Stewart said, “not at all.”

“That’s part of our defense that we’ve been doing since last year, so I don’t see why it should change,” Stewart said.

While Marshall calling the defense “malicious” will probably only continue the debate over the legality of their play, there is no question that the Broncos will continue to force their will on opposing offenses, whether or not the nation approves.