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Redskins Defense Challenged With Slowing Down The Lions' Versatile Backfield 

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The Lions have utilized a running-back-by-committee system since second-year running back Kerryon Johnson went down with a knee injury in their Week 6 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Last week against the Cowboys, second-year man Bo Scarbrough played 49 percent of the snaps as the featured back in offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offense.

Similar to Kerryon Johnson, Scarbrough brings a physicality that the Lions’ run game has been searching for since Johnson went down with an injury.

Scarbrough, who was promoted from the practice squad before last week's game against the Dallas Cowboys, rushed for 55 yards on 14 carries and scored his first-career touchdown. Nine of Scarbrough’s 14 carries last week were more than four yards, according to Next Gen Stats.

Scarbrough displayed his ability as a physical, hard-nosed runner who can break tackles at both the first and second level, averaging 4.1 yards after contact, which was third-highest among running backs in Week 11, according to Pro Football Focus. Keeping that fact in mind, the Redskins' defense will need to play fundamentally sound and rally to the ball carrier.

In addition to Scarbrough, the tandem of rookie Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic complete the Lions backfield. Last week, Johnson and McKissic played 29 percent and 23 percent of snaps, respectively. While Scarbrough is effective as a downhill runner, McKissic and Ty Johnson are more effective on stretch runs while also serving as outlets in the passing game. McKissic leads all Lions running backs with 22 receptions, which is the fifth-highest on the team.

“I think they have it all and I mentioned that the other day,” interim head coach Bill Callahan said of the Lions’ run game. “They have a pretty well-balanced rushing attack. They can stretch you form the perimeter and they can bang you inside with the gap schemes, the zone schemes.”

The Lions currently rank 19th in the NFL in rushing with an average of 98.7 yards per game, which is slightly lower than their previous average of 101.6 yards the first five games when Kerryon Johnson was healthy. While the Lions backfield has a different look, third-year quarterback Jeff Driskel is starting his third consecutive game with quarterback Matthew Stafford out with a back injury. Driskel showcased the ability to make plays with his feet, and the run-pass option has become more of a focal point in the Lions offense because of that.

“They feature him quite a bit in the zone read game, which is pretty impressive, and I think they’ll continue to do those types of things,” Callahan said.

So far this season, the Redskins defense has struggled defending the run, ranking 28th in the NFL and giving up an average of 133.9 yards per game. However, opponents are also averaging 32.3 rush attempts per game against the burgundy and gold, which is the second-highest in the league.

“How they feature the running game may be different against our 3-4 defense than it was against a 4-3 type of defense,” Callahan said.

Take a look at practice photos from Thursday's practice for the upcoming Jets home game.

Defensive linemen Matt Ioannidis, who leads the team with six tackles for loss, will play a key role Sunday. With fellow defensive lineman Daron Payne's doubtful for the game because of an ankle injury, Ioannidis, Jonathan Allen and Tim Settle will all need to maintain their gaps on the interior of the defensive line.

Safety Landon Collins will also play a vital role, coming down into the box to help provide run support, particularly when running backs progress to the second level. In addition to Collins, the linebacker duo of Cole Holcomb and Jon Bostic will be relied upon heavily in run support. Holcomb ranks second among NFL rookies with 64 tackles, while Bostic is the quarterback of the Redskins defense.

Slowing down the Lions multi-faceted run game will be paramount for the burgundy and gold to pick up their second win of the season and first at FedexField.

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