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Comparing the ‘99 Rams to 2019 offenses

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How “Great” would the Greatest Show be today?

NFL: NOV 19 Chiefs at Rams Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the surprising facts about the 1999 season is that the St. Louis Rams did not lead the NFL in scoring percentage. Though they had 83 more points than second place Washington and 130 more points than 14-2 Jacksonville and averaged .7 more yards per play than any other team, the Rams had a lower scoring percentage than the Indianapolis Colts.

It wasn’t much lower — 40.9% to 39.9% — but the Colts had a slightly higher percentage of their drives end in scores. Obviously this had to do with one thing more than a few others: field goals. Mike Vanderjagt made 34 of them for Indianapolis while Jeff Wilkins only made 20 for St. Louis.

Kurt Warner had 15 more touchdown passes than Peyton Manning and that’s why the Greatest Show on Turf was what it was and will always be remembered as a bit of a “checkpoint” for the evolution of NFL offenses. Now let’s take stock of where that evolution was as of 2019.

The ‘99 Rams scored 526 points.

The ‘19 Baltimore Ravens scored 531 points.

Interesting. I don’t recall there being the same commotion about the Ravens last season as there was about the Rams in 1999. Though Lamar Jackson did win MVP and Baltimore was certainly a story last season, is the main difference going to come down to how they did in the playoffs? Certainly that plays a role but maybe “style” had something to do with it too.

Warner was first in passing yards and while Marshall Faulk was also a star, the running game wasn’t the feature.

The Ravens finished 27th in passing yards. They rushed for nearly 1,000 more yards than second-place San Francisco but was that getting them as much credit as a team that sets passing records while winning? It also didn’t prohibit Baltimore from scoring. A lot. Not just in total points like St. Louis but also in percentage of drives that end in a score:

52.1%.

That is an absolutely dominating mark over the Jaguars and Rams of ‘99. They aren’t alone either. The Kansas City Chiefs (49.4%), New Orleans Saints (47.1%), Dallas Cowboys (44.6%), 49ers (44.3%), Minnesota Vikings (41.9%), and Atlanta Falcons (41.3%) would also finish with higher scoring percentages than the best teams of 1999.

Coming in right behind the Rams would be the 5-11 LA Chargers at 39.5% and the 5-10-1 Arizona Cardinals at 38.8% Even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with Jameis Winston ending 30 drives in interceptions all on his own, finished at 38.3%, barely behind the ‘99 Rams.

Warner would finish seventh in passing yards in 2019, one spot ahead of Drew Brees. His ‘99 tally would rank behind Winston, Dak Prescott, Matt Ryan, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, and Philip Rivers. However, his 41 touchdowns would’ve still ranked first. That season.

What’s really changed isn’t necessarily the very top of the order though, it’s the bottom and the middle.

Three teams had at least 27 touchdown passes in 1999 compared to 13 such teams last season. St. Louis averaged an NFL-best 6.5 yards per play in 1999 and the Cowboys matched that mark in 2019 (again, no hoopla around the Dallas offense either, perhaps winning more would’ve helped) but it’s what happens in second place on down that’s interesting.

The second-best yards per play in 1999 was 5.8.

The Vikings averaged 5.8 yards per play last season and that ranked 10th.

Teams are also becoming scary efficient and have reduced their turnovers and mistakes to levels that isn’t nearly praised or talked about enough. In 1999, the Jaguars had an NFL-low turnover% of 9.0 percent. Three other teams were between 10 and 11 percent. Three other teams were between 11 and 12 percent.

Last season, the Saints led the NFL at 4.1%, less than half the best mark of 20 years earlier.

Six teams were lower than 9 percent.

Eight teams were in single digits.

Sixteen teams — half of the NFL — was under 11 percent.

Overall, the NFL’s turnover percentage has dipped from 14.6 percent to 11.8 percent. The scoring percentage has gone up from 29.2 percent to 36 percent. Points per drive is up from 1.55 to 1.95. Rushing yards per game has gone from 106.5 to 112.9, while passing yards per game has gone from 212.3 to 235.

While scoring and offense dipped slightly in 2019 from 2018 — potentially somewhat due to a bad kicking year — the NFL has never had less defense on display than it does right now.