Comparing the 2017 Rams with the Greatest Show on Turf


Kurt Warner and Tory Holt have both noted some similarities between the GSOT 1999 and this year’s Los Angeles Rams. Peter King has picked the Rams to win the Super Bowl. Just how alike are the two teams?

Some have already started to say that the 2017 Los Angeles Rams are like the 1999 St. Louis Rams—even going so far as to suggest they are the “Greatest Show on “Surf” (which doesn’t really work, does it?). Only eight games in, having played a lot of teams with losing records, it is much too early to suggest they will even make the playoffs. In fact, coach Sean McVay has said that, at this point, the records mean nothing—no one remembers mid-season records when the Super Bowl rolls around.

Still, anyone can be forgiven for wondering. In 1999, no one expected Kurt Warner to be playing lights-out; in 2017, no one expected Jared Goff to look more like Warner than the 2016 Goff. No one expected the Rams to sit atop the NFC West or to lead the league in average points scored per game. And no one expected the 2016 Rams offense to be so much fun to watch.

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McVay is right: it is not the time to talk about playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl or a real-grass version of the Greatest Show on Turf. But what does a comparison of the first eight games of the two teams show? Are they really that similar? What are the differences?

In 1999, the St. Louis Rams were coming off of a dismal 4-12 year under coach Dick Vermeil. In the off-season, Vermeil made changes, bringing in creative offensive mind in Mike Martz (from Washington) and upgrading some of the personal through trades (Marshall Faulk) and the draft (Tory Holt).

The Los Angeles Rams of 2017 just came off a dismal 4-12 year under coach Jeff Fisher. Management made changes, bringing in a creative offensive mind in Sean McVay (from Washington), and upgrading the personnel through trades (Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods) and the draft (Gerald Everett, Cooper Kupp).

After eight games in 1999, the Rams had a 6-2 record, averaged 31.9 points per game for a total of 255 points, and posted an average of 376.5 yards per game for 3,014 yards. The offense committed 11 turnovers over those eight games.

After eight games in 2016, the Rams have a 6-2 record, average 32.9 points per game for a total of 263 points, and posted an average of 382 yards per game for 3,057 yards. The offense committed 12 turnovers over those eight games.

Stunningly similar. What about the defense?

The 1999 Rams defense, under defensive coordinator Peter Giunta, had allowed 2219 yards after eight games, for an average of 277 yards per game and caused 13 turnovers.

The 2017 Rams defense, under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, has allowed 2616 yards total, for an average of 327 yards per game, and caused 15 turnovers.

Also similar, though the yards allowed is a good bit more. Still, the unit has allowed less than that average in three of the last four games (241, 196, 319).

Kurt Warner, after eight games, had thrown 24 touchdowns to four interceptions. He had been sacked 19 times, however. His stats were such that Sports Illustrated cover from October 18 asked, “Who IS this guy?”

Jared Goff, after eight games, has thrown 13 touchdowns to 4 interceptions, but has been sacked half as many times (10).

Goff’s numbers are not close to Warner’s. This is not surprising. Goff has only started 15 NFL games after college. Warner had played in the Arena League, NFL Europe, and been a backup. Martz’s offense was pass-first; McVay’s offense is more balanced. Still, Goff’s numbers are those of an excellent quarterback—in top ten in quarterback rating at the midpoint of the season.

Marshall Faulk was a running back who was also excellent out of the backfield. After eight games, he had 1,072 total yards from scrimmage (607 rushing and 465 receiving) and four touchdowns.

Todd Gurley is a running back who is also excellent out of the backfield. After eight games, he has 1,024 total yards from scrimmage (686 wishing and 338 receiving) and ten touchdowns.

Another strikingly similar statistic, though Gurley has 2.5 times as many touchdowns (and leads the league).

In these statistics, the ‘99 and ‘17 Rams are quite similar. Offensively, the current version protects the quarterback better and their running back is more productive in terms of scoring. Goff is a top ten quarterback, but he is not as prolific as Warner (a high bar, to be sure). Like the ‘99 Rams, the ‘17 Rams seem to be having a lot of fun.

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Statistics do not tell the whole story, of course. The Los Angeles Rams of today are much younger than the 1999 Rams. The head coach is the youngest ever in the NFL; Dick Vermeil was experienced and had led the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XV. He had a number of long-tenured assistants who had been head coaches (McVay does have Phillips). Not only statistics be misleading, but they can change as the season goes on. The Rams schedule includes some tougher opponents in the second half. And injuries could have an effect.

Still, the comparisons are much more apt than one might think at first glance. If the Los Angeles Rams continue to play like they have in the first half of the season—or get better—maybe someone will have to come up with a Greatest Show on something epithet. As for Peter King’s prediction—doubtful. But so was the idea that the 4-12 Rams could become the 13-3 Super Bowl XXXIV champions.

That’s what makes the NFL so much fun.