The San Francisco 49ers are unwilling to discuss it publicly, but some of them think Eric Dickerson has a leg injury. They're saying that's what is wrong with the Ram ground game.
"Dickerson is running like a guy who's trying not to (aggravate) a hamstring pull," one 49er said after Sunday's Ram-49er game.
From the second quarter on, the Rams were playing catchup Sunday and seldom gave Dickerson the ball. But he hadn't been a factor in previous games, either.
The last time he looked himself was at Seattle Sept. 23, before he pulled a hamstring that night in his first game back after a summer holdout.
Hamstring injuries, which usually follow periods of idleness, are especially resistant to treatment and often leave a mental scar. Such an injury drove Pittsburgh wide receiver Lynn Swann out of football prematurely.
The Rams say Dickerson is well, but the 49ers are skeptical.
John Robinson's stature as a coach rose in the 49er game, which his team lost.
Starting his third season with the Rams, Robinson had made a 7-0 record with a bunch that obviously isn't that good.
The explanation is that he is a motivator who, like Detroit Tiger Manager Sparky Anderson, wins by telling his players how good they are and daring them to live up to his faith.
Here's what Robinson said recently about the heart of his team, the defense:
Reggie Doss: "Consistent steadying influence." Charles DeJurnett: "Wily veteran." Doug Reed: "A very physical rising star."
Jim Collins: "An all-pro." Mike Wilcher: "Another rising star who plays phenomenally." Carl Ekern: "Our leader, a great manager." Mel Owens: "Consistent, efficient all-round player."
Secondary: Gary Green: "Cunning, cat-like great athlete." LeRoy Irvin: "Opportunistic, excellent anticipator." Nolan Cromwell: "Savvy, superb tackler." Johnnie Johnson: "Super intense, always in the game."
That's typical Robinson.
Jessie Hester of the Raiders and Jerry Rice of the 49ers are wide receivers with two things in common: Both are promising rookies, and both have been dropping the ball.
If Rice had held a bomb Sunday, Joe Montana would have received credit for a perfectly thrown long pass--a play his critics keep saying he can't make.
What prompts gifted, soft-handed young catching specialists to drop the ball?
"In a word, it's inexperience," said Raider executive Al LoCasale, a former coach. "They're thinking about running their routes right, and wondering about all the other things they have to remember, and suddenly, here comes the ball. When they get where everything is second nature to them, you'll see a lot of improvement in their catching."
Last Sunday was an aberration in the Ram schedule, with defending champion San Francisco here. But this weekend, the kind of season they've mostly had will continue. They'll get another team they can beat, the New Orleans Saints, just in time to bring back their confidence.
The Raiders, meanwhile, will be in Seattle, where they haven't won for four years and where they won by only 32-31 the last time they did win there.
Hester isn't the only Raider who will be performing in the noisy Kingdome for the first time. Only 18 members of the club ever played in Oakland. The other 27 Raiders--60% of the playing roster--joined up here, meaning this is mostly a Los Angeles team now in more than name.
The continuity is in the club's tradition. Counting the Raiders' squeaky wins at Cleveland last week and at Seattle in 1981, they've been in 20 one-point games over the years and have won 16.
For most of the season, Auburn tailback Bo Jackson has been running as if he were an NFL first draft choice.
If he weren't a baseball player, too, Jackson might be the first college man drafted by the pros next spring.
He appears to move with more speed than possibly anyone in football--or baseball--except Herschel Walker.
Football or baseball? Which way should Jackson go? If he listens to a former Michigan State wide receiver-outfielder, he'll opt for spikes.
Kirk Gibson of the Detroit Tigers, who plans to translate his free-agent status into at least $1.5 million a year in 1986, said when asked what he would say to Jackson if the young man sought his opinion:
"I'd tell him he'd be crazy not to play baseball, for a number of reasons. I'd tell him that it takes awhile to learn to play and to channel one's football aggressions, but the money and length of career make it worth it."
The AFC West title will be won this year, conceivably, in the two Raider-Denver games in late November and December.
In the season's first eight weeks, the Raiders and Broncos tied for first.
"The fact that we're 6-2 at the halfway point is due directly to the depth of our team," Denver Coach Dan Reeves said. "We've used all 45 players, and that's the way you have to do it today."
One of the 45 is Randy Robbins, a second-year defensive back from Arizona, who blocked two punts last week to turn the game against Kansas City.
"In training camp, Randy was the best defensive back against the pass we had," said Reeves, who had to keep him out of the Ram game in September with a broken arm.
At 6 feet 2 inches and 190 pounds, Robbins is playing safety in the Denver scheme, although, Reeves said, he's "a perfect L.A. Raiders cornerback."
The Super Bowl quarterbacks, Montana and Miami's Dan Marino, are having trouble this year precisely because of their successes last year.
This is the view of most opponents, who say they're loading up against Montana's short passes and Marino's bombs. Their theory is that one is weak deep and the other short.
In any case, Don Shula of the second-place Dophins said: "We're really at the crossroads now."