CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The question was simple: Is the Broncos defense dirty?
The answer was blunt.
"Did they watch the film of last year? Did they watch the Super Bowl?" cornerback Chris Harris told Denver7.
His point? The Broncos boast an aggressive, physical, in-your-face style. They aren't reinventing themselves, not after years of being dogged as a team with more finesse than salon-quality shampoo. The issue facing the Broncos on Wednesday is not unlike the controversy that arose last year. How do they walk a fine line without crossing the line on big hits?
Two Broncos were docked pay Wednesday. Linebacker Brandon Marshall, first reported by Denver7, was fined $24,309 for launching himself into Carolina quarterback Cam Newton. Safety Darian Stewart was levied $18,231 for a helmet-to-helmet strike on Newton on the Panthers' final drive.
Both players admitted that they have to be smarter. But it came with a caveat.
"We can't stop being aggressive," Stewart said. "That's what made us No. 1."
The league can't legislate out violence. Rules are in place to protect the players, in particular, the quarterbacks. But in a game staged at lightning speed with athletes bigger, stronger and faster than ever, there will be issues. Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is not coaching his players to break rules. However, his defense unleashes players to go upfield, to make the quarterback miserable. To think there won't be rules broken is naive. The Broncos finished third in on-field fines last year at $131,530. They ranked behind the Cincinnati Bengals ($242,193) and Pittsburgh Steelers ($150,477).
Not all penalties are created equal. Some send a message.
Therein lies the issue: How does a defense remain physical without incurring the league's wrath? The Broncos successfully struck a balance, for the most part, last year. Foolish penalties helped secure a loss at Indianapolis last season when cornerback Aqib Talib poked tight end Dwayne Allen in the eye. He was suspended for his behavior, then acknowledged his mistake. Evidence he wants to move on? I asked if he was concerned about any retaliation from Allen this Sunday.
"Who's that? Who's that?" Talib said.
Anyone who followed the Broncos last season knows they won a Super Bowl because of their defense. They led the league in sacks, stuffed the run, and suffocated great quarterbacks (Their last four wins, counting this year's opener, have come against Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Newton -- twice). Being aggressive brings advantages. Opponents know they are going to get hit. Over and over again. It's who the Broncos are. Are they dirty? The Panthers believe so, though they had as many problems with the officials as the Broncos. Colts coach Chuck Pagano doesn't think so.
"Our guys are aware of (the Broncos' defense). It's up to us to protect our (quarterback)," Pagano said Wednesday. "It's a physical game."
The Broncos won't change their identity. They own rings because of their brass-knuckle style on defense. But the challenge is real. They must remain physical without being selfish and hurting the team.
And if complaints follow, well, they are they fine with that.