Let's put the Los Angeles Rams' 7-0 start in proper perspective:

The Rams rank 18th in the league in scoring. Eric Dickerson, the former holdout, hasn't rushed for 100 yards in a game in five weeks and his hamstrings are sore. Quarterback Dieter Brock, considerably cooled from his Canadian days, hasn't thrown for more than 215 yards in a game all year and has five touchdown passes with six interceptions.

Make no mistake, the primary reason for the Rams' breakaway four-game lead in the NFC West has been their defense.

Not only have the Rams allowed a league-low 89 points (15 fewer than the Eagles and Jets), but they have forced five turnovers or more in four games. In yielding about 13 points per game, this bunch is giving up even fewer points than George Allen's "Fearsome Foursome" defense did in its most fearsome season (14 points per game, 1967).

Though the Rams are without defensive end Jack Youngblood (retired) and seventh-year linebacker George Andrews (injured), the defense is packed with veterans full of verve. Only two starters have played less than five seasons -- third-year linebacker Mike Wilcher and second-year end Doug Reed, Youngblood's replacement, who rates among the league leaders with six sacks.

Harry Usher, U.S. Football League commissioner, said yesterday that the past year has been a constant test of overcoming one crisis after another.

"It has been frustrating, but it has also been rewarding in the sense that I see a group of owners coming closer together in their goals," said Usher, who came to Capitol Hill yesterday to express to lawmakers the USFL's opposition to the Professional Sports Community Protection Act of Sen. John Danforth (R-Miss.).

"Since I took over as commissioner, it's been a bizarre sequence of events. Someone I felt to be absolutely impervious to financial difficulty, (former Birmingham owner) Marvin Warner, has gone down the tubes. I've seen (former Tampa Bay owner) John Bassett start a revolution in the league and fail.

"I've seen Bassett's partner, Steve Arky (a prominent Miami lawyer), shoot and kill himself. I've seen guys on the Fortune 500 not make their payroll, in the name of (former San Antonio owner) Clint Manges. And I've seen a Los Angeles team that I made everyone look up to and support go 3-15 and then have (team president) Don Klosterman sue the league.

"It's definitely been interesting."

This is the fourth time Tampa Bay has started 0-7. Shamefully, the franchise is only 10 years old . . . Just how important is quarterback Jim McMahon to the Chicago Bears? Consider that before drafting McMahon in 1982, the Bears had endured a 17-season lull (1965-1981) in which only once did their leading passer throw for more touchdowns than interceptions in a season. Mike Phipps threw for nine touchdowns with eight interceptions in 1979.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: New York Giants Coach Bill Parcells told reporters he was unhappy with one portion of the Giants' 17-3 defeat of the Redskins Sunday: "We're covering kickoffs like the Pointer Sisters."