Rules tampering to the contrary, the Rams are showing that dull still holds a preeminent place in the NFL. The Rams nurture dull; the Rams refine dull. The Rams are so conservative they don't have any Os in their game plan. Only Xs.

"We put in a couple of new plays this week," quarterback Dieter Brock insisted. "Maybe we'll put in a couple more next week (for the NFC title game)."

That would lift the entire Rams repertoire to an evenly balanced even dozen plays: six Eric Dickerson runs to the left, six Eric Dickerson runs to the right.

The infuriating thing about dull is this: when it works, it wins. With the will of a John Robinson, with the legs of a Dickerson and with the arms of a terrific defense, dull can be devastating.

Dull to the nth power wins the Super Bowl, as Washingtonians also know.

"He (Robinson) instills in you that running backs are invincible," said Dickerson. "He says that even on busted plays we'll make yards. After a while, you believe him."

Of course, it also helps if the guys on the other side of the line come abumbling into the most important game of the season. The Cowboys train not far from here, so maybe they got this confused with a harmless scrimmage.

(Quick thought: the Redskins failed to make the playoffs; the Cowboys were as tame yesterday as Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at nearby Disneyland. Unless the Giants do well against the Bears today, people might get the impression the NFC East is vastly overrated.)

One of the alleged certainties about the Cowboys is that nobody runs much on them. The flex wrecks ground games, we've been told no fewer than 12 zillion times.

No less an authority than Joe Gibbs apparently reiterated that as recently as last week. Dickerson heard him say it on national television. Players often hear what they want, but the Rams ramrod is certain the Redskins coach flat-out declared the Cowboys defense off limits to the run.

"He said he wanted to send a message to the Los Angeles Rams," Dickerson quoted Gibbs as saying. "He said we couldn't run against the Dallas Cowboys."

Well, that's still true enough. Those weren't the Dallas Cowboys yesterday.

Dickerson pranced for 248 yards, or about 2 1/2 times up and down the field. The real Dallas Cowboys might allow that sort of yardage in a month.

Not that Dickerson isn't capable of being heroic against great defenses stacked to stop him. Probably, he is the best runner in the NFL just now.

Walter Payton already has pounded down the door to the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Marcus Allen surely was the most valuable player in the league this season. I'd still draft Dickerson ahead of either one.

Like Allen with the Raiders, Dickerson is proving that quarterbacks are okay to have around but not really all that necessary to win.

The most telling collision yesterday involved Dickerson and Cowboys colossus Randy White. Dickerson won, knocking White at least five yards back and on his butt.

"I remember that," said Dickerson, smiling. "It was on a draw. It shows he's a man just like me. He's not invincible either."

In three regular seasons, Dickerson has rushed for an astonishing 5,147 yards. After a holdout that included the first two regular-season games, he produced an anemic (for him) 1,234 yards this year.

There was talk in public that Dickerson had lost his zest. He denied it after he seemed to disprove it.

"I always play hard," he said, "because I never know when it'll be my last down in football. When I lose my desire to play football, I'll quit.

"And I don't think I had a real bad year. Nobody gets 2,000 yards and 1,800 yards every season. It's not possible, I think."

At Southern Cal, Robinson coached some of the greatest backs in football history. He said of SMU's Dickerson: "Nothing is more exciting than watching this man run."

If that ever became necessary, how might Robinson defend Dickerson?

"I'd have him hold out." How might Dickerson defend himself?

"Guess I'd put nine men on the line and just hope. That's the problem with special defenses. If you get through 'em, you can go a long way. I'd still gamble (against himself), and hope for nothing long."

Being quite a good coach, Robinson only likes to gamble when absolutely forced to. He prefers that football be played the old-fashioned way. The wonder is that he doesn't drive a roadster, with a running board and black-walled tires.

With Dickerson in full throttle, the only need for a huddle is to -- you guessed it -- run. With gobs of valuable seconds running off the clock, Brock can simply bark: "Again." Or even point.

If criticism about lack of imagination bothers Robinson, he simply observes: "It seems the power teams are more successful."

He meant the other two teams left in the NFC, the Giants and Bears. And the other Los Angeles team, which actually plays in Los Angeles, the Raiders. Except for the Dolphins, the pass-mad dandies are finished.

"Everybody said we couldn't run against the Cowboys," said guard Dennis Harrah. "We shut 'em up. Everybody says we can't pass. We'll shut them up, too."

Against either the Bears or the Giants, they'll have to. Unless Dickerson decides to get even more ornery.