The Rams are what I would call a successful NFL franchise, and I think most NFL fans would agree. They have a Super Bowl win, plus a couple championships from before the merger. As of now, their height came in the late ‘90s and early aughts, when “The Greatest Show on Turf” set the NFL ablaze.
Those Rams set multiple offensive records on the arm of Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, the legs of Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk, the hands of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and the destructive force of yet another Hall of Fame player, offensive tackle Orlando Pace. This team scored 526 points in 1999, a team record, then broke that record with 540 points the next year. They made two Super Bowls, winning their first during the 1999 season and losing the second to none other than the Patriots in the 2001 season.
Fast forward 17 years later, and the Rams are back in the Super Bowl against the Patriots, with an offense that shares some similarities to the team that was last in the big game. The whole reason The Greatest Show on Turf was successful was its Air Coryell offense, utilizing a lethal aerial attack and a running game that simply punished opponents at every turn. They led the league in each of those three seasons, while the Rams finished the 2018 season second in the category with 527 points, one more than the Super Bowl 34 champs.
These days, the NFL is much more geared toward high-flying offenses. As a result, there is more than a passing resemblance between these Rams and the Rams of yesteryear. Just how much of a resemblance? Let’s break it down by position.
(We’re going to leave out tight ends and fullbacks, because the positions served different roles then compared to now, and neither team really gets — or asks — much of the positions outside of blocking.)
They came to the NFL on different paths — Warner worked at a grocery store and was first an Arena Football star; Goff was the No. 1 pick in the draft. Warner also had more of a reputation as a gunslinger, while Goff is still establishing his.
But on the field, Warner and Goff are more alike than you might think. They’re both pocket passers, though part of the reason The Greatest Show on Turf was so great was how much they were able to confuse defenses by moving Warner, and his pocket, around so much, while he still delivered deadly accurate balls. Their stats aren’t far apart, either.
Jared Goff 2018 stats: 364 of 561 (64.9 percent) for 4,688 yards (8.4 YPA), 32 TDs, 12 INTs
Kurt Warner 1999 stats: 325 of 499 (65.1 percent) for 4,353 yards (8.7 YPA), 41 TDs, 13 INTs
Goff has more attempts and more completions, and thus more yards, but Warner threw for more touchdowns and just one more interception. Their completion percentages are separated by just 0.2 percent.
Marshall Faulk stands alone as the running back who changed the modern game the most. The fact he had over 1,300 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving was mind-blowing at the time, and he redefined what can be expected of the position. It would be nearly impossible for any running back to compare on the stat sheet, but let’s see how Todd Gurley measures up.
Todd Gurley 2018 stats: 256 carries for 1,251 yards (4.9 YPA), 17 TDs; 59 catches for 580 yards (9.8 YPR) and 4 TDs
Marshall Faulk 1999 stats: 253 carries for 1,381 yards (5.5 YPA), 7 TDs; 87 catches for 1,048 yards (12.0 YPR) and 5 TDs
Faulk is a Hall of Fame running back, and it’s no surprise he outpaces Gurley in both rushing and receiving. Gurley, though, accounts for some of the disparity by being responsible for nine more touchdowns than Faulk, including 17 rushing touchdowns to Faulk’s seven. Their running styles aren’t identical, but they DID take on a very similar workload and are both superstars.
Wide receiver is where it just gets eerie. The top three receivers for The Greatest Show on Turf, not counting Faulk, were the sure-handed Isaac Bruce, the reliable route runner Torry Holt (then a rookie), and the deep ball/big-play threat, Az-Zahir Hakim. Those three stack up pretty dang well with Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Brandin Cooks, in that order.
Things are muddied a bit by the fact Kupp went on injured reserve after only eight games, and as a result, Cooks saw more targets (117 targets vs. 56) than the man he’d match up with the most, Hakim. That isn’t to say they filled the same exact roles, as Cooks is certainly a high-end starter while Hakim was more of a role player. But let’s look at the stats.
Robert Woods 2018 stats: 86 catches for 1,219 yards (14.2 YPR), 6 TDs, 66.2 catch percentage
Cooper Kupp 2018 stats (8 games): 40 catches for 566 yards (14.2 YPR), 6 TDs, 72.7 catch percentage
Brandin Cooks 2018 stats: 80 catches for 1,204 yards (15.1 YPR), 5 TDs, 68.4 catch percentage
Isaac Bruce 1999 stats: 77 catches for 1,165 yards (15.1 YPR), 12 TDs, 64.2 catch percentage
Torry Holt 1999 stats: 52 catches for 788 yards (15.2 YPR), 6 TDs, 53.6 catch percentage
Az-Zahir Hakim 1999 stats: 36 catches for 677 yards (18.8 YPR), 8 TDs, 64.3 catch percentage
A few players excelled at one thing in particular — Hakim in yards-per-reception, Kupp in catch percentage, and Bruce in touchdowns — but everyone else is rather evenly matched. The averages line up extremely well across the board. The thing to take from this is the current group of Rams receivers are probably underrated, even with a trip to the Super Bowl.
Orlando Pace is a Hall of Famer, and someone who absolutely dominated just about every big-name defender in the league throughout his storied career. In 1999, he was in his third year with the Rams and was just hitting his stride. To contrast, Andrew Whitworth is 37 years old and near the end of his career,. However, he’s been a beast for much of his career, and his measureables line up pretty well with Pace. Whitworth will also probably make it into the Hall of Fame.
It’s a bit more difficult to compare offensive lines. Sacks allowed is a somewhat nebulous stat that isn’t officially tracked, but we do have overall sacks allowed numbers (Warner was sacked 29 times in 1999, while Goff was sacked 33 times in 2018). How about we take a look at some of the measurements instead?
LT Andrew Whitworth: 6’7, 330 pounds (55th overall pick, 2006)
LG Rodger Saffold: 6’5, 323 pounds (33rd overall pick, 2010)
C John Sullivan: 6’4, 312 pounds (187th overall pick, 2008)
RG Austin Blythe: 6’3, 298 pounds (248th overall pick, 2016)
RT Rob Havenstein: 6’8, 330 pounds (57th overall pick, 2015)
LT Orlando Pace: 6’7, 325 pounds (1st overall pick, 1997)
LG Tom Nutten: 6’5, 280 pounds (221st overall pick, 1995)
C Mike Gruttadauria: 6’3, 280 pounds (Undrafted, 1995)
RG Adam Timmerman: 6’4, 310 pounds (230th overall pick, 1995)
RT Fred Miller: 6’7, 320 pounds (141st overall pick, 1996)
As you can see, the lines are actually fairly close in size. Offensive lines as a whole have become a bit heavier in the modern NFL, but the five players all match up with their counterparts enough that it’s actually kind of impressive.
The play styles and philosophy line up — Pace and Whitworth are absolute destroyers, and both teams feature athletic guards. The 2018 Rams have higher draft picks overall on their line, likely due to the fact pass rushers have become insanely more athletic over the years, putting a premium on the guys who protect the quarterback.
There are a ton of similarities both on the stat sheet and in the type of players who graced the 1999 Rams and 2018 Rams. There are also similarities on the coaching staff. Mike Martz, the offensive coordinator and later head coach, wasn’t young, but he was a brilliant offensive mind who turned the NFL upside-down. That’s exactly what Sean McVay is trying to do now. We’ll see if, like the 1999 Rams, he ends up with a Super Bowl ring.