DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions' run-and-shoot offense packs plenty of punch, but it's usually Barry Sanders who lands the big blow.

In 22 games, he has scored 22 touchdowns and averaged 114 total yards on five yards per rush and 14 per catch. "I don't know if anybody else in the league is that talented," Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We're not looking forward to this, period. He's had some awesome performances this year."

Sanders would prosper in any offense, but the run-and-shoot is partly responsible for his success and could be the key to a long career. As rookie of the year in 1989, the 5-foot-8, 202-pounder was the league's second-leading rusher (1,470 yards) but was seventh in attempts (280). He carried 90 fewer times than rushing champion Christian Okoye.

"Barry doesn't get beat up in this offense," Lions Coach Wayne Fontes said. "He doesn't have to carry the ball 25 times a game and he doesn't take a lot of big hits as it is."

This is not news to the Redskins. Former Lions defensive end Eric Williams, acquired in a trade Sept. 11, said: "We couldn't even touch him in practice. It's hard to believe that we're supposed to {stop him}. He's amazing. I just hope I don't see his heels a lot."

Because the Redskins have yet to face a true run-and-shoot team, Gibbs is expected to use a wide range of defenses early and settle on the most successful. Lions assistant coach Mouse Davis, the widely acclaimed run-and-shoot guru, says that reaction is common.

"They'll get more comfortable facing it after they've seen it three or four times," he said. "Like most teams, they'll come in trying to stop Barry. That gives us great potential for the pass and we have to execute."

The Lions have been doing that a little better lately. They've scored 20 or more points in their last 11 regular season games, a club record. After going 1-6 and averaging 14 points through seven games last season, they are 3-4 and scoring 24 per game this year.

Quarterback Rodney Peete is at the forefront of the improvement. After throwing at least one interception in nine of his first 10 NFL games, he has not been picked off in his last three starts.

While the 4-3 Redskins wonder what to expect Sunday, the Lions know exactly what they'll see -- the dreaded counter play. "They only have three running plays, that's why they're so good at it," Fontes said. "New Orleans runs it too and we had success against it because {nose tackle} Jerry Ball would mash the pocket. But the Redskins do a better job of running it."

In passing situations, the key for the Lions will be outside linebacker Mike Cofer. The defense has been simplified with one goal in mind: bring Cofer on every play.

"We had 68 plays {against New Orleans} and rushed him 66. That's what he does best," defensive coordinator Woody Widenhofer said. The Lions know they're in trouble if they can't pressure Stan Humphries and force him into mistakes. Detroit did just that last week in forcing New Orleans quarterbacks into four interceptions and two fumbles in a 27-10 victory.

Jimmy Williams, a native Washingtonian, returned a fumble 53 yards for a touchdown to break a 10-10 tie late in the third quarter. Williams, who attended Wilson High School, has been Detroit's big-play man on defense.

He led all NFL linebackers in interceptions last season with five and also forced two fumbles and recovered one. When no major college offered him a scholarship out of high school, he and his younger brother Toby went out to Nebraska and made the squad as walk-ons. Jimmy Williams became a No. 1 draft pick in 1982; Toby joined the New England Patriots. Jimmy Williams has been a full-time starter for the past eight seasons.