ASHBURN, Va. -- Excuse Washington Redskins linebacker Antonio Pierce if he sounds a little frustrated.
He's not miffed that the team is 4-8, sits in last place in the NFC East and likely will miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.
No, Pierce is a little ticked off that even though the Redskins' defense is ranked second in the league in total yards surrendered and sixth in points allowed, people are still asking questions about who isn't on the unit rather than who is.
"People still don't give our defense respect," Pierce said after the defense yielded just 145 yards to the New York Giants in Washington's 31-7 victory on Sunday. "All they want to talk about is who's hurt. You've got to get over that fact. This is Week 13, and we've got guys stepping in week in and week out. ... We still have guys that are hungry and feel unappreciated."
Pierce may have a point. Even without four season-opening starters and another projected starter, the Redskins have limited opposing offenses to 257.4 yards and 16.8 points a game.
Only the Pittsburgh Steelers (253.8) have been stingier in the yardage department. The New York Jets (14.6), Philadelphia Eagles (15.1), Steelers (15.3), New England Patriots (15.8) and Ravens (15.9) have given up fewer points per game.
Washington has accomplished such lofty rankings without starters such as linebacker LaVar Arrington (right knee surgery), defensive end Phillip Daniels (strained groin and dislocated left wrist), strong safety Matt Bowen (torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee) and free safety Andre Lott (torn left pectoral).
Also, middle linebacker Mike Barrow hasn't played a snap this season because of patella tendinitis, and defensive end Demetric Evans, who would have started in Daniels' place, won't play against the Eagles (11-1) at FedEx Field on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. as he nurses a cracked fibula.
Considering all that, coach Joe Gibbs can't stop talking about the defense's resiliency.
"We keep sustaining injuries, and a lot of them are surgery-type things," he said. "I'd say that says a lot for them to play that well and be ranked where they are and to be doing the things they've been doing. They certainly have led us."
Gibbs and many of the defensive players say the credit belongs to Gregg Williams, assistant head coach/defense, who in three seasons as the Buffalo Bills' head coach moved that team's defense from 21st in 2001 to 15th in 2002 to second in 2003.
Players say Williams values intelligence nearly as much as he searches for talent. Players in his system must decipher the coach's aggressive schemes and carry out their roles in split seconds as plays evolve.
Williams has not hesitated to insert players with little experience in the NFL. Ryan Clark, playing for Bowen, had started just four games in two years before joining the Redskins. Pierce, Lemar Marshall and Ron Warner, filling in for Barrow, Arrington and Daniels, respectively, did not start a game last year. Sean Taylor, who has taken over Lott's role, is a rookie.
Williams' faith in his players has bred results. Pierce, a free agent after this season, leads the team in tackles with 124, and Marshall is sixth (59). Clark (74 tackles) and Taylor (67) are 1-2 among the defensive backs, and Taylor is tied with cornerbacks Fred Smoot and Shawn Springs for the team lead in interceptions (three).
Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, who brings the league's No. 7 offense to town, said he's not surprised at the success the unit and Williams are having.
"He has a great scheme, and these players believe in it and they execute it very well," Reid said. "I've seen it before with our team when we put backups in. They just play their hearts out, and that's what he has right now."
Next for Redskins
Matchup: Philadelphia Eagles (11-1) vs. Redskins (4-8)
Site: FedEx Field, Landover
When: Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN, Ch. 7/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)
Line: Eagles by 9