Of the two undefeated teams left in the NFL this season, the Dallas Cowboys have been blessed with a wholesale dose of luck's good graces, while Los Angeles' Raiders have squeaked by with terrific talent.
The Raiders, who are slight underdogs to the Redskins for Sunday's game here (1 p.m., WRC-TV-4), whistled past the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Oilers, stunned a Monday night crowd with their dominance of the Miami Dolphins and battered quarterback John Elway in Sunday's 23-7 win over the Denver Broncos. Elway left the game in the first half with a concussion.
The way linebacker Ted Hendricks and the rest of the Raiders' defense have been playing, it's a small wonder more opponents didn't join the troubled rookie in sick bay. Elway's replacement, Steve DeBerg, was greeted with similar enthusiasm. He was dumped in his end zone late in the game.
The Raiders have allowed just 37 points in four games. "I guess what has been the most pleasant surprise of all has been the defense, especially the way our younger guys have played," said Coach Tom Flores. "(Tackle) Bill Pickel out of Rutgers and (end) Greg Townsend from TCU have been all over the quarterback when we go to five defensive backs."
Flores said that although other teams in the league have adopted the one-back offense, the Redskins use it differently, and with more balance than anyone else. Defending against that attack is this week's work.
"San Diego comes at you with a one-back formation, but they do it mainly to pass," Flores said. "But with Washington, you can never over-defense them. They get in that formation with (John) Riggins, and they can either come straight at you, go outside or (Joe) Theismann can run around in and out of that pocket and beat you with the throw.
"The thing about the Redskins, though, is that they're pretty simple. They love to pound away at the running game. Of course, we can see that in the films and everyone knows it, but stopping it is another thing."
Last week against the Broncos, none of the team's offensive stars had big days statistically. Marcus Allen ran for only 45 yards and Jim Plunkett threw for 154 yards. Nonetheless, Denver's defense never seemed able to stop the Raiders when it counted.
"It's the same old thing with Plunkett," Flores said. "He got some raps coming out of rebuilding seasons in New England and San Francisco, but he's always won for us. He never looks very pretty doing what he does, but he wins.
"He had a pretty good training camp but he didn't have the best exhibition season, and some people thought Marc Wilson, who was good in preseason, should've gotten the start. But look at Jim now."
Although the Raiders are undefeated on the field, they have had a rather tough time at the box office. After leaving Oakland, where they were always a sellout, Al Davis has found it difficult to fill cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum. In two home games, the Raiders drew 43,609 for the Oilers and 60,696 for the Dolphins.
"What can I tell you? We'd certainly like to see more," Flores said. "We had 90,000 for our playoff game last year but it's going to take a while in this town.
"Los Angeles is taxed heavily for sports. USC, UCLA and the Dodgers are all hot and draw attention. It took a lot of years to get where we were in Oakland, and it might take a little time here."