Detroit Lions Defensive Playbook: Stopping the Washington Redskins' Attack

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterSeptember 25, 2009

DETROIT , MI - OCTOBER 26:  Clinton Portis #27 of the Washington Redskins runs the ball against the Detroit Lions on October 26, 2008 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Domenic Centofanti/Getty Images)

When the Lions take the field this week in a blacked-out home game, it will be their best possible chance before the bye to break this abysmal losing streak. In a game pundits are currently picking Detroit to win, fans are obviously skeptical.

On Wednesday, I posted an article on how the Lions offense matches up to the Redskins defense and how Detroit can succeed when they have the ball.

This article will focus on the game situations when the Redskins have the ball.

Stop Clinton Portis

Right, easier said than done.

As of now, Portis is having a modest season at 70 yards per game, but is averaging four yards per carry. Detroit is the type of opponent which athletes like Portis often like to pad stats against. Especially if the Redskins are up early. Portis has only rushed the ball 35 times this season and ideally would hit the 20-25 range on Sunday.

Yet, the Lions may have caught Portis at the right time.

An ankle injury has limited the star running back in practice both Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Although he is currently "probable" to play on Sunday, an ankle injury could be reaggravated at any time and could also limit his effectiveness.

With a healthy Portis, the Redskins often look to one play as his bread and butter—the zone stretch. Used for years by the Indianapolis Colts, the stretch makes use of Portis as a powerful one-cut running back. From stance to gap, no back is faster than Clinton Portis—no backfield dancing, one cut and gone. 

Will Portis be able to make that one cut on a slightly bum ankle?

The zone stretch isn't the easiest play to stop, especially when you don't know its coming.

However, the Lions made strides this offseason in getting bigger and stronger, which will help. The main key to stopping the stretch play is penetration. Grady Jackson (who is dealing with an injury of his own) may earn his paycheck this week if he is able to establish himself past the line of scrimmage. He doesn't need to get to the running back, he just needs to not be moved.

In addition to Jackson, Larry Foote will be pivotal in shedding a blocker and getting to Portis. If Portis gets to the secondary with a full head of steam, he is almost as hard to bring down as Adrian Peterson.

Force Campbell to Throw Long

It should be no surprise to anyone that Campbell is a dump off quarterback. After living with two different systems which stressed vertical passing, Campbell has found a home in the West Coast Offense. In 2008, Campbell only completed nine percent of passes over 20 yards and only 31 percent of mid-range passes.

The Lions need to stack the box, even in passing situations, and sit in the flats.

The Redskins will look heavily to three routes—a crossing route to Chris Cooley, a slant to Antwaan Randle El, and a dig route to Santana Moss.

The best possible way to stop each of those routes is tough, physical, bump and run coverage.

If the cornerbacks and safeties play one or two yards closer to the line of scrimmage, Campbell will be forced to look over the top, where he is less accurate.

Washington will look to run many of these routes—especially the crossing route—right at rookie starters DeAndre Levy and Louis Delmas. It will be a test for the two young men, but the Lions can assist by being physical up front.

On obvious passing downs, look for the defensive ends to split out to a nine technique, tempting Campbell to leave Cooley in on max protection.

Of course, if Campbell is unable to throw the shorter passes...

Apply the Pressure

Campbell has only been sacked three times so far in 2009. Yet he was the fourth-most sacked quarterback in '08.

Part of that stat can be explained by Campbell inhabiting the same conference as Demarcus Ware, Justin Tuck, and Darren Howard. However, Campbell is notoriously slow through his progressions. If his favorite route on a play is not there, Campbell will look to dump off; if the dump off is covered, Campbell will probably be on the ground.

Campbell is also a rhythm quarterback and the West Coast is a rhythm offense. Even if the Lions do not rack up sacks on Sunday, hitting Campbell will have a great effect.

The Redskins will be missing RG Randy Thomas and have already voiced displeasure at the play of RT Stephon Heyer. Look for the Lions to stunt and blitz heavily at that right side.

Combined with the physical play described above, the Lions could force many errant throws.


With the Redskins' injury at RG and Portis' dinged up ankle, fortune could be smiling on the lowly Lions from Detroit. If the Lions can take advantage of the matchups, they could be up early. Last week, the Lions showed they can play a good team close without much trouble.

When momentum started to shift, Detroit fell apart.

Defensively, the Lions need to keep momentum by forcing Campbell and the Redskins' offense off-balance. This is a winnable game against a struggling Washington squad.


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