The 5 Greatest Rams Teams Of All-Time
The 1973 Rams
1973 had “rebuild year” written all over it. The team had a new head coach, Chuck Knox, and a new quarterback, John Hadl. Knox was a first-time head coach and Hadl, a 10-year veteran and five-time Pro Bowler, had just been traded to LA by San Diego. They even had new uniforms, reintroducing gold to the color scheme.
On offense, not only had the team replaced its long time QB Roman Gabriel, but they also started a new running back, wide receiver, and right tackle. By this season, the Fearsome Foursome had all but become a thing of the past. Deacon Jones and Rosey Grier were long gone, but they were able to re-develop the core of their defensive line around veteran Merlin Olsen and young homegrown talent Jack Youngblood and Larry Brooks. The rest of the defense was gutted, five of the eight remaining positions were filled by new starters in 1973.
Rebuilds aren’t supposed to work this fast. In 1972 the Rams won just six games. In 1973, they went 6-0 to start the season. Their wins were decisive and their two losses were nail biters. They were beaten by a combined three points. This dominance led to a whopping 210 point differential, which was highest in the league that year and is third all-time in franchise history, behind only “The Greatest Show on Turf” teams of 1999 and 2001. The team also sent eight players to the Pro Bowl and three were named to first-team All-Pro.
Hadl was one of the players named to the All-Pro team. He threw for 2,008 yards (8th in the league) and 22 touchdowns, one behind both Roger Staubach and Roman Gabriel.
13 of Hadl’s touchdown passes were caught by fellow All-Pro teammate, receiver, Harold Jackson. Jackson caught 40 passes for 874 yards. He was actually the other end of the trade that sent Roman Gabriel to Philadelphia.
But Chuck Knox didn’t earn the nickname Ground Chuck because of his love for cheap hamburger meat. The offense ran through the Pro Bowl backfield of Lawrence McCutcheon and Jim Bertelsen. The Rams rushed the ball 659 times, most in the league. They passed 271 times that season. That’s a 70% rush rate.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams were developing into one of the best defenses in history. In this season they held opponents to 178 total points, fifth-best in franchise history. Just two seasons later they would hold opponents to 135. While they didn’t earn a distinctive moniker like their predecessors, the front four of the ‘73 Rams held their own. They led the league in rushing defense and held teams to a league-leading five touchdowns. And the pass defense didn’t let much by them either. They only gave up 4.5 yards per pass and 10 touchdowns. Fifth and fourth in the league respectively. Collectively the defense gave up the league’s fewest first downs with 173, 21 fewer than the second place, Oakland Raiders.
The Rams made it look easy as they strolled into the playoffs after ending the season with another six-game winning streak. They outscored those opponents 180 to 56. The first playoff game under the new head coach was against the Dallas Cowboys, who the Rams had beaten in week 5 of the regular season.
Perhaps the Rams came into the game too confident or perhaps they lacked playoff experience, but the ‘73 Cinderella season came to an end in the Divisional round. The Cowboys held the Rams to under 100 yards rushing and punished Hadl with five sacks. They did what they could to stay in the game, finally punching in a touchdown in the fourth quarter to make it a one-point game, 16-17. But Drew Pearson caught an incredible pass from Staubach, which he took for an 83-yard touchdown. That put the nail in the coffin of that season, but the Rams went on to win the NFC West seven years straight, culminating in a trip to the Super Bowl in 1979.
The ’73 team goes down as one of the greatest Rams teams.
The 1945 Rams
This team shares a lot of similarities with the 1973 team. A new coach, Adam Walsh, a new quarterback, Bob Waterfield, and a quick turn around resulting in a trip to the postseason. To clarify a few things, the Rams were in Cleveland at the time and the postseason was exactly one game, the NFL Championship. At the time the NFL had two divisions, East and West. The winner of each division would play at the end of December to decide the league champion. This season would mark the Cleveland Rams’ first and only NFL title. Up until 1945, they were pretty bad. They hadn’t had a winning season in the teams seven years of existence. And a month after winning the big game the team moved to LA.
The team went 9-1, which was best in the league. They led the league in rushing with 1,714 yards, despite ranking 5th in rushing attempts. Their top three rushers were ranked fourth, fifth, and sixth in the league. The rookie quarterback out of UCLA stole the show. Waterfield threw for 1,609 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also served as the team’s punter and placekicker and as a defensive back. He led the team in interceptions with six. His primary passing target was Jim Benton, who led the league in receiving yards at 1,067 despite missing a game. He also set the record for receiving yards in a game against the Detroit Lions with 303 yards, a record which would stand for 40 years.
The 1945 Rams defense was stout. They ranked third in points per game and yards per game, 13.6 and 249. They also led the league in takeaways and with the fewest defensive penalties. Defensive stats from this era are lacking, so it is difficult to pinpoint who were the standouts. On a whole, the team was good against the run, holding teams to just 2.9 yards per rush. Against the pass, they had more of a boom or bust result. They were second in the league in interceptions (28) and led the league with a 39.1% completion percentage.
Having your QB lead the team in interceptions is one thing, but they also started their leading rushers, Fred Gehrke and Jim Gillette, and starting center, Mike Scarry on defense. They intercepted four passes each. But they also gave up 146.3 yards per game, fourth-worst in the league.
The Championship Game was held in Cleveland on December 16th. It was -8 degrees. Washington’s star QB Sammy Baugh may have been the lynchpin that swung the game in the Ram’s favor.
Firstly, when throwing a pass from the end zone, he hit the goal post, which was at the time a penalty resulting in a safety, handing two points to the Rams. Secondly, Baugh was injured in the first quarter and left the game. Given Cleveland’s sometimes shaky pass defense, playing against back up Frank Filchock rather than against a future Hall of Famer was preferable. Filchock played well and kept Washington in the game. Filchock threw for 172 yards and two touchdowns, but the Rams’ run defense was dominant. They held Washington to just 35 yards, a scant 1.03 yards per carry.
The Rams offense racked up stats but was unable to convert the gains into points. The Rams rushed for 180 yards and Waterfield passed for 192, but they were only able to score two touchdowns. Waterfield made some rookie mistakes; overthrowing open receivers and throwing two interceptions, one in the red zone.
In the end, the Rams were able to hold off Washington, winning 15-14. Hopefully, someone sent Sammy Baugh a bouquet of flowers for those two points. Bob Waterfield went on to win the MVP that season and Adan Walsh was named Coach of the Year. The Rams franchise would have to wait 54 years for another Championship.
The 1967 Rams
It had been 11 seasons since the Rams last made the postseason. In that time, they had only had two winning seasons, one of which came a year earlier, in 1966, George Allen’s first season as head coach.
The team already had considerable talent on the roster, including Deacon Jones, Merlin Olsen, and Roman Gabriel. But it took Allen’s motivational approach and rigorous training methods to unlock the team’s potential. In just his second season at the helm, Allen had the Rams at the top of the league with an 11-1-2 record and back into the playoffs. In addition to that, the ‘67 Rams scored the most points in the league while also holding opponents to the league’s fewest.
Roman Gabriel was promoted to the starter by Allen in 1966 and in 1967 he had one of the best years of his career. He threw for 2,779 yards and 25 touchdowns. He also rushed for 198 yards and six touchdowns. While four other members of the offense went to the Pro Bowl, the Rams offense was successful due to its versatility.
The offense had several different playmakers, both rushers and pass-catchers. Halfback, Les Josephson led the team in rushing with 800 yards rushing, but also caught for 400 yards, and tied for the second-most receptions on the team with 37. He was one of three Rams to score eight combined touchdowns.
Another was Jack Snow, who also caught for 735 yards on 28 catches. That’s 26.3 yards per catch, which is sixth all-time.
Ultimately, the true star of the offense was the line. It was anchored by eventual Hall of Fame left guard, Tom Mack. In Mack’s first year as a starter, Gabriel’s sack total was cut in half, from 48 in ‘66 to 24 in ‘67.
The true star power of this team was on defense, particularly the front four. Three of the four went to the Pro Bowl and two were named first-team All-Pro. Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen are Hall of Famers. Sacks weren’t recorded until 1982, but had they been Jones would rank third with 173.5. While the line had their way with quarterbacks, they were unbeatable against the run. They allowed 1,119 yards, second in the league, and only five touchdowns, first in the league. If a quarterback was able to get a clean pass off, the line was backed up by a nasty secondary. They led the league with 32 interceptions, with Eddie Meador leading the team with eight picks that season.
By the end of the season, the Rams were riding high. In week 13, they beat the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in a down-to-the-wire thriller. Then they clobbered the formidable Baltimore Colts to lock up the division in the final game of the year.
Their first playoff game in 11 years would be a rematch against the Packers. This time it would be in Wisconsin, despite the Rams having a better regular-season record. The Rams struck first with a touchdown in the first quarter, but that would be the only points scored by them. The Packers stifled the offense, holding the Rams to 75 yards rushing. Roman Gabriel went 11-31 and was sacked five times.
On offense, the Packers figured out how to beat the unbeatable Fearsome Foursome. They ran for 165 yards for three touchdowns. The Rams lost 7-28. The Rams went on to beat the Cleveland Browns 30-6 in the NFL’s third-place game, the so-called Playoff Bowl.
The 1967 Rams sent 10 players to the Pro Bowl and George Allen was named Coach of the Year.
The 2018 Rams
History is bound to repeat itself. That adage seems to be true for the Rams franchise. After another long playoff drought and another move, the Rams hire a new head coach and start a new quarterback and, boom, they are back in contention for a championship. Sean McVay was the youngest head coach hired in the NFL modern era. In 2017 McVay was nearly 31 years old. The offensive wunderkind got right to work.
There wasn’t much shifting of the roster from 2016 to 2017. The talent was already in place, but it took Sean McVay’s freakishly high amount of energy, offensive ingenuity, and overall expert level culture-building to unlock the true roster talent.
Jared Goff is the greatest example of that unlocking. Goff started his career as the number one draft pick in 2016. He started 7 games and was awful. Under the new regime, Goff increased his completion percentage from 54.6 to 62.1, his TD% from 2.4% to 5.9%, and lowered his INT% from 3.4% to 1.5%. His record as a starter in 2016 was 0-7, in 2017 it was 11-4.
2017 set a pretty high expectation for the next season and the 2018 Rams were able to meet and exceed that expectation. With Goff in at QB and Todd Gurley in top form, the offense looked unstoppable. Goff passed for 4,866 yards and 32 touchdowns. Goff was able to excel in part to his committee of pass catchers. Both Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks were in the top 15 in receiving yards and Cooper Kupp was on pace to have a 1,000-yard season before being sidelined by injury mid-season.
Todd Gurley was also a favorite target for Goff. He caught 59 passes for 580 yards and four touchdowns. Not to mention, he rushed for a league-leading 17 touchdowns and 1,251 yards, despite missing two games. McVay’s offensive scheme drove the team to the top of the NFC, leading in both points per game and yards per game. The high power offense hit the crescendo in the Week 11 shootout with the equally high powered Kansas City Chiefs. The teams combined for 103 points and the QB’s combined for 891 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Rams came out on top 54-51 after Goff threw a touchdown to Gerald Everett with just under two minutes left in the fourth quarter.
With an offense like this, the defense doesn’t need to do a lot to ensure a win. Which is good, because the defense on a whole was mediocre. There were standouts, the most obvious being Aaron Donald. He went on to lead the league in sacks and tackles for loss and won Defensive Player of the Year. Others played well and the defense did what they had to do to win games.
The defense did have a knack for making big plays. They were third in the league with 30 takeaways. In that offensive slugfest with the Chiefs, the defense came up huge, creating five turnovers. Two of the three interceptions coming on Patrick Mahomes’ final two drives. The Rams’ front office took some big swings to put the defense over the top. They added several stars to the roster including, Dante Fowler Jr., Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, and Ndamukong Suh. While all made a positive impact in 2018, none would remain on the roster past 2019.
The Rams ended the 2018 campaign with a 13-3 record, winning the NFC West and a first-round bye. In the divisional round, the Rams dispatched the Cowboys, holding Ezekiel Elliott to under 50 yards for only the second time that season.
In the NFC Championship, the Rams narrowly and controversially escaped New Orleans with a win in a back and forth overtime thriller ending in a still disputed and infamous pass interference non-call. Of course, this win sent the Rams to the franchise’s fourth trip to the Super Bowl.
Ironically, the season that featured some of the most dynamic and high flying offenses, including the Rams, was punctuated by the lowest-scoring Super Bowl of all-time. Neither the Patriots nor the Rams could establish any rhythm or ball movement. There wasn’t a touchdown scored until the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, the touchdown was scored by the Patriots and that was plenty to effectively put the game away.
The team that put up nearly 33 points per game could only muster a field goal. Without much historical context to view it, for many Rams fans, this loss still stings. But looking back at Ram’s history shows there are many reasons to be optimistic in LA. If history does repeat itself, a good coach and a good QB and a defense with potential can get you a long way in the NFL.
The 1999 Rams
The only Rams team to take home the Lombardi makes the 1999 squad the obvious choice for the best Rams team. The fact that they are among the best offensive teams in NFL history puts them in the conversation of the greatest NFL team ever. The effect that this team had on the rest of the league is further proof. They single-handedly changed how teams viewed the passing game. By 1999 the west coast offense seemed like the default scheme for offenses en masse and the oldest football cliche, establishing the run, was not to be questioned. Mike Martz turned both on their heads.
Before joining the Rams, Martz was a QB coach in Washington. In his time there, Martz had put together a highly efficient pass-oriented package of third down plays. They were so efficient that Martz began to question why these plays were relegated to be run only on third down.
In an interview for Ron Jaworski’s book, “The Games That Changed The Game,” Martz told Jaworski, “So what happened was that we decided to run these third-and-long plays regardless of down and distance or field position. To us, it simply didn’t matter anymore. This kept defenses guessing — they couldn’t zero in on our tendencies, personnel packages, or formations, because they’d always have to be ready for the big pass.”
And the new NFL was conceived. While the West Coast offense had stretched defenses horizontally, Martz would stretch them vertically. This would require fast receivers, a reliable rusher, and, most of all, a strong and accurate passer. Luckily, in 1999, the Rams had all of the above in Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Marshall Faulk, and Trent Green. Well, they had Trent Green for a minute. Of course, we all know that he was hurt in the preseason and subsequently replaced by the real-life Disney sports movie character, Kurt Warner.
The team put up impressive stats but more importantly was the effect it had across the league. Not only did teams start to pass more, but the efficiency also went through the roof. The league average QBR in 1999 was 77.1. Kurt Warner led the league with a QBR of 109.2, over 14 points higher than second place. From 2000-2019 the league average QBR has been 84.3. Compare that to the 20 years before 1999 when the QBR was 75.5. To put that in tangible terms, in ‘99 Brett Favre led the league in passing attempts with 599, but Warner threw 19 more touchdowns, 262 more yards, all while throwing almost 100 fewer passes.
Still, while the down the field passing game was garnering most of the attention, the running back remained a huge part of the team’s success. Marshall Faulk not only rushed for 1,381 yards that season, but he also was the team’s second-leading receiver. He caught 87 passes for 1,048 yards. At the time, only Faulk and Roger Craig had rushed and caught for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
The defense was also in the shadow of the larger than life offense, but the ‘99 defense was no slouch. They only allowed 15.1 points per game and, in true Rams fashion, the defensive line was dominant. They allowed a league fewest, 74.3 rushing yards per game, only allowing four rushing TD’s all year. The team led the league in sacks, as well, with 54. Defensive End, Kevin Carter, led the league with 17 sacks, D’Marco Farr added 8.5, and Grant Wistrom added 6.5 more. And while the pass defense left a lot to be desired, they intercepted 29 passes, second in the league.
The team ended the year with a 13-3 record. The three losses were by a combined 14 points. The Rams’ point differential was 284 points, more than 100 points higher than the next best team. That point differential stands as the highest in Rams’ history, despite the fact that it was neither the highest offensive output nor the strongest defensive performance in Rams’ history. The Rams earned a first-round bye with the best record in the NFC. They breezed past the Vikings and were able to sneak past the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, despite being held to just 11 points.
It was the only game all season that the Rams were held to fewer than 21 points. The Rams defense rose to the challenge, sacking Shaun King five times and coming up with two interceptions. They held the Bucs to six points and put two more on the board by forcing a safety.
In the Super Bowl, it didn’t look like the Tennessee Titans could slow down the offense. Kurt Warner marched his team down the field into the Titans red zone in every possession of the first half but was forced to settle for three field goals. The first touchdown came in the third quarter. On their first possession, Warner, again, marched the Rams down the field. This time he connected with Torrey Holt for a nine-yard touchdown pass. This extended the Rams lead to 16-0. This time the Titans had an answer.
On their next two possessions, the Titans scored two touchdowns then tied it up on the very next possession with a field goal. 16-16 with three minutes left. Feeling the lead slipping away, the Rams pulled out one of those Mike Martz specials. On first and 10, the Rams called the play, 999, which sent all four receivers deep downfield. Warner connected with Issac Bruce midfield and Bruce took it the rest of the way for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Titan’s backs were to the wall with two minutes left in the fourth quarter. Steve McNair responded. A couple of short passes and a few defensive penalties put the Titans into Ram’s territory. On third and five with 22 seconds on the clock and 26 yards to go, McNair avoided a swarm of pressure to make a miracle throw to Kevin Dyson. With five seconds left on the clock, the Titans are 10 yards away from tying the game with a touchdown. McNair again connects with Dyson, who catches the ball at the five, but Mike Jones is in position to take him down. Dyson lunges for the end zone but comes up one yard short. The Rams win their first Super Bowl and did so in the most dramatic fashion. Kurt Warner earns the Super Bowl MVP and the season MVP. Dick Vermeil is named Coach of the Year and Marshall Faulk is named the Offensive Player of the Year.
Which Rams team do you think was the best of all-time?