A year ago, Billy Sims ran through and around the Washington Redskins for 159 yards, his second-best performance in three years as a pro. Despite his efforts, the Detroit Lions lost.

Detroit also was a loser the day Sims rambled for his top NFL output, 185 yards in Denver. In fact, the Lions have been losers for a long time, no matter who has carried the ball. Detroit's last victory in a playoff game occurred in 1957, when Sims was 2 years old.

Sims is too busy with his multiple interests to analyze past disasters, but he thinks he knows why the team has been struggling lately. Accordingly, he was delighted to see some different offensive maneuvers--like the tight-end reverse that produced the winning touchdown in Sunday's 27-24 triumph over Green Bay.

"I always felt we should open up," Sims said today as the Lions worked out here in preparation for Saturday's playoff game in Washington. "Certain games, we would depend so much on the run that the other team was aware of what was coming.

"We have a lot of guys on this team with a lot of talent. We need to use them more and keep the defense honest, not just let them key on our running game."

That is a refreshing approach; most big-yardage backs want the ball on every play, to build up their statistics. Sims, however, has proven that he is different in more ways than just his superior athletic ability.

Sims did not report to the Lions this season until four days before the regular-season opener, when owner William Clay Ford finally acceded to a meeting to discuss what Sims claimed was a verbal promise to renegotiate his option-year contract for 1983. It wasn't the money, Sims insisted, but the principle of the thing.

Then, during the players' strike, Sims let it be known, despite the Lions' solid prostrike stance, that he did not consider the walkout a particularly smart move. He noted that he, personally, would gain nothing by it.

The fact that the Lions voted Sims their offensive MVP indicates that his teammates respect his right to his own opinions, just so long as he produces on the field. For his part, Sims continues to give 100 percent on game day with one goal in mind.

"I want to end up as one of the top running backs who ever played," Sims said, when asked what motivated a man whose bank account already guarantees a comfortable existence for the rest of his life.

Sims is incorporated as Simbo Inc., owns a ranch in Texas, has large investments in real estate and furniture, handles promotions for Ford, collects a fat fee for Adidas endorsements and works in the off-season for an oil company.

"I don't need football financially," Sims, who is 27, said. "If I retired today, I wouldn't have to work another day for the rest of my life. But I feel pretty good and I want to play as long as my health is good. I'll be 32 in five . . . years and I'd like to play that long."

Despite his success running against the Redskins last year, Sims does not expect an easy time Saturday.

"Washington now has an outstanding defense," Sims said. "It will be a lot harder this time, the way they're playing. It was hard enough last time, even though I had a good day."