That the Redskins are not winning more is not the fault of the defense. It has yielded only 155 points in 12 games, a pace that would make it the stingiest in George Allen's seven years in Washington.
Houston has taken over calling defensive signals for Hanburger, has done it with competence and is still doing it because one game after Hanburger had recovered from the appendoctomy he went down with a knee injury.
"We've all studied a little bit more after losing Chris," said tackle Diron Talbert, the defensive captain. "We're are not watching more film, but we're studying the film a little deeper instead of just letting it run.
"Before, we depended on Chris having us in the right defense, and Chris having us here, and Chris calling this, and Chris doing this, and Chris doing that. Putting it all together, it's just better preparation. When you got a guy like Chris, you tend to count on him a little bit more and he does our guy like Chris, you tend to count on him a little bit more and he does our work like Chris, you tend to count on him a little bit more and he does our work for us."
So despite a number of minor fractures, sprains and bruises and crippling injuries to right linebacker Hanburger, left cornerback Pat Fischer and right end Dennis Johnson, the Redskins have hung together and replaced the piece in the system.
For the first time, they have a chance of bettering Allen's defensive goal of 190 points allowed. The coach is aware of their effort and their pride.
"Everyone on defense is playing up to their capacity and some of them are playing over their heads," Allen said. "We haven't made too many mistakes."
"The key is no hesitation," said Talbert. "We know exactly what we are doing. It's been pounded into their brain so much that we don't make a lot of mistakes."
"The whole group, players and coaches," said defensive coordinator La Vern Torgeson, "is probably more into preparation as such because, maybe, we had begun to rely on Chris to do it all for us."
Except for Brad Dusek, who has blossomed into an exceptional linebacker on the left side, the success of this Redskin defense is not the individuals but unity.
"We may not look as good on paper as some other teams," said Torgeson. "But, as a cohesive unit, we are."
"You don't play defense by taking 11 best men and throwing them on the field and telling them to go at it," said left tackle Bill Brundige. "Defense has to be a cohesive unit and we've been fortunate that Mike Curtis has fit in very well for Chris and every game Gerard Williams gets into the system more.
"The whole thing is that everybody on the defense does his job the way it is designed. Then you're going to have a great defense. When you get in trouble is when you start helping out.
"A lot of times a player will say, 'Gee, we may be a little weak at linebacker, so I'm going to overcompensate.' Well, then you really screw it up."
The defense has not failed orten this year, holding four opponents without a touchdown and yeilded more than two touchdowns only once. Only on the bottom line - points allowed - does this Redskin defense appear strong on paper. It ranks 11th in the 14 team NFC is total defense, a ranking based in part on yards allowed.
But that is relative to how long the defense is on the field. Washington already has had 839 defensive plays this season, only one less than the entire 1972 regular season when the Redskin went to the Super Bowl. This team is allowing 4.3 yards per play; that team allowed 4.5.
The Redskins also have recovered only 11 fumbles and intercepted 17 passes this season. Torgeson writes this off as a tendency for teams to play conservatively against Washington, avoiding the high-risk plays on which Redskins have capitalized in the past.
What is ailing the Redskins is offense. And that is why they take a 7.5 record to St Louis Saturday for a nationally televised game against the Cardinals.
"Even if they haven't scored much, the offense has moved the ball out of bad field position lately for us, as they did at Buffalo," Torgeson said.
"Is this my most satisfying year with the defense? It will be, if we get into the playoffs."