Sean McVay is considered an offensive genius. Not just by Los Angeles Rams fans and blog writers, it’s been the national media’s narrative since soon after he came to L.A. in 2017. His offenses have proven explosive with an ever-changing cast of skill position players. But how do his offenses stack up against the best of the Rams past?
With the multitude of changes in professional football as the years, it does become somewhat subjective to compare teams (and players) over multiple decades. But there are always statistics and Pro Football Reference provides those numbers going back to the days when the Rams started in Cleveland.
Using 10 main offensive categories and breaking those numbers down into “per game” format seemingly makes a better fit for comparing teams over 80+ years. One caveat, I used the tactile method to average out many of the raw numbers. Are all the calculations perfect? Doubt it’s 100%, but not off enough to skew any final tally. Here’s the results.
It’s almost a toss-up between 1950, 1951, and 2000. Followed closely by 1954 and a little further back, 1953 and 2001. The Greatest Show on Turf years are certainly not surprising, but only the most fervent Rams fans are familiar with how good those early L.A. teams were when they first migrated west. From 1949 through 1955, the Rams made the playoffs five times winning the NFL Championship in 1951 and losing in the title game three times.
Coming off their Super Bowl win, the 2000 offense flew high behind four future Hall of Fame members, quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, left tackle Orlando Pace, and wide receiver Issac Bruce. You can add “should be” yellow jacket wideout Torry Holt to that group.
Although the season ended with a disappointing Wild Card loss (1st Round) in the playoffs, Warner showed he not a flash in the pan. He missed five games with injury and still there 37 touchdowns and combined with Trent Green to mount an offense that would show Top 3 finishes in seven of 10 all-time categories.
Faulk would miss two games, but still run for 1359 yards, add another 830 receiving, and tally 26 scores. He also averaged 5.4 yards per carry. The Rams run game was pretty much a one-man show, the rest of the running attack, wide receivers included, only totaled 484 yards at 3.7 clip.
Bruce, Holt, and Faulk combined for 46.2 percent of targets, 65.8 percent of receptions, and 71.7 percent of passing yards gained. The strong return game was powered by 1379 kickoff return yards from Tony Horne and Az Hakim’s 489 yards on punts.
The Rams weren’t limited to a big three of running back Dan Towler, and two Hall of Famer’s, quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, and wide receiver Elroy Hirsch. They also claimed two other HOF members, quarterback Bob Waterfield and wide receiver Dan Fears.
Van Brocklin, drafted in 1949, started to take over as the starting signal caller from the 31 year-old Bob Waterfield, a five-time Pro Bowl quarterback. On their way to the NFL Championship victory, The pair steered a well-balanced offense that over history would end up with a Top 5 ranking in eight of ten of 10 categories.
Three-time All-Pro Towler led the run game, with plenty of help. Six players in all helped the unit to Number 1 in average rush yards per game and Number 2 in rush yards per carry. Backup Tank Younger would go on to three All-Pro and four Pro Bowl awards later in his career.
The one-two punch of Hirsch and Fears combined for 200 yards receiving per game, 21.1 yards per catch and 20 touchdowns. Vitamin Smith and 1945 Heisman Trophy winner Glen Davis led the return game.
The Rams unleashed the two-headed passing monster of Waterfield and Van Brocklin on the NFL with each starting six games. The result was an offense that scored a Top 3 rank in six of 10 Rams all-time offensive categories. Although the air attack led the way, the run game chalked up 28 touchdowns as well. L.A. scored an astonishing 38.8 points per game, gobbled up 436.7 offensive yards per game, and with the addition of a stellar return game, soared to 587.7 yards per game in passing, running, and return yards.
Mr. Hollywood (Waterfield) and The Dutchman (Van Brocklin) combined for 3601 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 14.4 yards per completion. Over their four years together, 1949 through 1952, the dynamic duo combine to lead an offense that rolled up 735 yards in one game, gained 300 yards or more in 29 consecutive games and not only made the playoffs all four seasons, but played in three consecutive NFL championship games. Both shared the punting duties as well.
L.A.’s gameplan was to use Waterfield’s athletic ability to move the pocket on shorter routes and Van Brocklin’s strong arm to attack deep. The receiving corps, led by Fears, had five players average over 17.0 yards per catch and Crazy Legs Hirsch was at 16.0+.
It was run game by a committee of six players rolling between 100 and 500 yards. The rush attack was used mainly as a compliment to the forward pass, only highlighted by the 28 touchdowns. The return game added 1817 yards, led again by Vitamin Smith (960) and Tommy Kalmanir (474).
Here are the all-time numbers
Points per game
1950 (38.8), 2000 (35.0), 2018 (32.9), 1951 (32.3), 1999 (32.3)
Touchdowns per game
1950 (4.9), 2000 (4.1), 1951 (4.0), 2001 (3.6), 1949 (3.5), 1953 (3.5)
Total offensive yards per game
1951 (450.8), 2000 (442.2), 1950 (436.7), 1954 (432.2), 2018 (421.1)
Total return yards per game
1950 (156.4), 2007 (143.4), 2000 (143.2), 1995 (137.5), 2009 (134.9)
All-purpose yards per game (rushing, passing, kick returns)
1950 (587.7), 2000 (585.4), 1954 (549.1), 1951 (548.2), 1999 (516.5)
Yards per offensive play
2000 (7.0), 1954 (6.9), 1951 (6.8), 2001 (6.6), 1999 (6.5)
Passing yards per game
2000 (323.3), 1950 (309.1), 2001 (306.5), 2021 (305.8), 2018 (293.1)
Net yards per completion
1954 (18.6), 1951 (17.4), 1964 (16.0), 1957 (15.7), 1958 (15.6)
Rushing yards per game
1951 (184.1), 1973 (182.8), 1957 (179.5), 1953 (179.0), 1984 (179.0)
Rush yards per attempt
1984 (5.3), 1951 (5.2), 1956 (5.2), 1953 (5.0), 1954 (5.0), 1958 (5.0)
Where do McVay’s offenses rank?
Right around #7 all-time for 2018 and #10 for 2021. It seems that the Rams numbers under McVay are held back by a lack of return game. That’s certainly the case for 2018, when L.A. had a nicely balanced offense. Not so much in 2021, when the run game lagged a bit. If the calculations were redone without considering the punt and kick returns, they would likely show better. I’m not sure if you can quantify it, but McVay has also seemingly taken his foot off the gas when ahead later in games. Maybe that’s just a case of recency bias on my part, because I have watched these past few seasons a bit closer, but it appears real.
While it’s fun to look backwards at seasons past, the future is now and for 2023, the question is, “Can the Rams offense join the ranks of the teams all-time best?” With a young and inexperienced defense, it could be a season of shootouts.