Not as bad as the Bengals: The Rams of the 1990s

This isn’t a post in the Worst Teams of All Time series, but consider it an honorable mention.

The Bengals, in the 1990s, were clearly the worst team, but the Rams were very close. From 1990 to 1999, the Rams went 58-102, to the Bengals 52-108. However, if you exclude 1999, the Rams are worse, going 45-99 to Cincinnati’s 48-96.

John Robinson

John Robinson’s success in the 80s suddenly hit a brick wall in the new decade.

The journey for the Rams in the 1990s actually begins in Los Angeles, where they had been throughout their lifetime. Coach John Robinson was hired after a miserable 1982 campaign, and after drafting Eric Dickerson, the Rams became contenders, reaching the NFC title game in 1985, but losing to the immortal 1985 Bears. After Dickerson was traded in 1987, the Rams continued to reach the playoffs. In 1989, they scored the second most points in the NFL, led behind the hot arm of Jim “Cris” Everett, and the receiving duo of Flipper Anderson and Henry Ellard, The Rams again lost in the NFC Title game to a historically great team, the 1989 49ers.

Jim Everett

Everett, before being driven to insanity by Jim Rome, was a sturdy quarterback for the Rams.

In 1990, L.A. was poised to rise above the challenge, but their success jolted to a halt. They started the season 3-7 and eventually fell to a 5-11 season. An interesting tidbit about the 1990 campaign was that Marcus Dupree made his first NFL start for the Rams against the Giants. Despite the poor record, which was mainly caused by the defense (who surrendered 25.8 points per game), Jim Everett had a very good season, passing for 23 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and 3,989 yards while completing 55.4% of his passes for a rating for a 79.3 rating.

Cleveland Gary

Cleveland Gary? Who’s that? Well, I’ll tell you who he was, he was the Rams’ leading rusher in 1990. Gary carried the ball 204 times for 808 yards and 14 touchdowns.

But, as I said before, the stricken defense seemed to never recover from being whipped in the 1989 NFC Title game. Even though Kevin Greene had a nice 13 sack season, they only scored 1 touchdown the entire season and consistently were embarrassed by opposing offenses.

Also, did you know that Curt Warner spent his final year with the Rams? In 1990, he carried the ball 49 times for 139 yards and a touchdown.

1991 was most likely the worst Rams team in the 90s (despite beating the defending champion Giants in Week 2), whether it be by record alone or just how they looked on the field. Jim Everett had problems throwing the ball the entire season, throwing 11 touchdowns to 20 interceptions, completing 56.5% of his passes for a final rating of 68.9.

Robert Delpino was the leading rusher, with a name that sounded more like a tangy fruit than a running back, but he won team MVP in 1991. He carried the ball 214 times for 688 yards and 9 touchdowns.

The offense, however, was nowhere near as exciting and explosive as the 1989 and 1990 teams, averaging only 14.6 points per game.

The defense was worse, however. They allowed 24.4 points per game, while recording only 17 sacks and 11 interceptions. They allowed 7.86 yards per pass attempt, the 4th worst in the history of the NFL. 1991 Bengals, awful pass defense, 1991 Rams, awful pass defense. Coincidences, huh?

After the horrible finish, John Robinson was fired after 9 seasons as Los Angeles’ head coach.

Chuck Knox

Chuck Knox wondering how this new-fangled game got so complex.

Mimicking the Colts’ back-to-the-future philosophy after their hiring of Ted Marchibroda in 1992, the Rams hired former head coach Chuck Knox. Knox had coached the Rams, Bills and Seahawks in his career, going all the way back to 1973, but the game had started to pass him by. Although he won the AFC West with Seattle in 1988, he had sat through 7-9, 9-7 and 7-9 campaigns in 1989, 1990 and 1991 with Seattle, before being fired. They didn’t make the post-season once in that span. Regardless, he was hired to coach Los Angeles in 1992.

Immediately, it seemed that Chuck Knox wasn’t going to win with the Rams. The game had passed him by. After getting smothered by the two-time AFC Champion Buffalo Bills in Week 1 40-7 in which Thurman Thomas ran roughshod over them, the defense never recovered. L.A. allowed the second-most points in the NFL, 383, while finishing last in total yards allowed (5,523), rushing yards allowed (2,230), and yards-per-rushing attempt (4.8). Football Outsiders also calculated that the 1992 Rams had the second-worst run defense they had ever tracked.

In a scheduling oddity, the Rams faced four AFC East teams to start the season, and played their remaining schedule against NFC teams. Against the AFC East, they were 2-2, but against the NFC, they were 4-8.

The offense was slightly better, even with the quarterback pair of Jim Everett and Mike Pagel struggling. Robert Delpino failed to duplicate his momentum he had created in 1991, but Cleveland Gary again had a shining season, carrying the ball 279 times for 1,125 yards, a 4.0 yards-per-carry average and 7 touchdowns. They averaged 19.6 points per game as a unit, while giving up 23.9 per game.

In 1993, the Rams drafted Jerome Bettis in the first round. They showed promise with a 2-2 start, but couldn’t maintain their success, finishing 5-11. Despite having the likes of Bettis, the offense was bare-bones, averaging 13.8 points per game. Peyton Manning averages more touchdowns per game than that (almost). Jim Everett started to wear down, starting only 9 games. He threw 8 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for 1,652 yards, completing 49.3% of those passes for a rating of 59.7. Youngster T.J. Rubley was also shoved in at quarterback, and he faired slightly better. His stats were nice, but he went 2-5 as a starter.

Jerome Bettis had a fabulous rookie campaign, despite the rest of the offense being anemic. He carried the ball 294 times for 1,429 yards for a yards-per-carry average of 4.9, while scoring 7 touchdowns. Predictably, he was the team’s leading rusher, with the next highest rusher, Cleveland Gary, only collecting 293 yards.

Jerome Bettis

The defense had its same old problems, giving up 22.9 points per game. That’s not too bad, but considering how bad the offense was, it was back-breaking.

1994 began with no expectation, and that was filled nicely. Again starting 2-2, the Rams finished 2-12, suffering their worst season since 1991. Cleveland Gary and Jim Everett were now gone, now being replaced with Jerome Bettis and…Chris Miller? Yeah, that’s…yep. No wonder they were as bad as they were. Bettis suffered from a sophomore slump, carrying the ball 319 times for just over 1,000 yards and 3 touchdowns, an average of 3.2 yards per attempt.

Chris Miller

I’m pretty sure Ryan Fitzpatrick was a more stable quarterback than Chris Miller.

Chris Miller, a former Falcon, was now the “starter” for the Rams. He started 10 games, accumulating a 2-8 record. He completed 54.6% of his passes for 2,104 yards, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The other quarterback, Chris Chandler, finished with a starting record of 2-4 and had better stats. Tommy Maddox, the one and only MVP of the XFL, was the third-stringer.

Another losing season, 4-12, and in 1994, the two teams of Los Angeles played each-other for the final time. The Raiders won 20-17. The Rams were relocated to St. Louis, and the Raiders were relocated to Oakland, leaving the Los Angeles market with no football, a void that hasn’t been filled as of 2014. Chuck Knox was also fired at the end of 1994, ending his career with a 15-33 record in Los Angeles.

Rich Brooks

Rich Brooks complaining, as he always seemed to do.

Rich Brooks was hired as head coach to rebuild St. Louis, and other personnel changes were made as well. Among other additions, former Redskins quarterback Mark Rypien was brought in, and Kevin Carter was drafted. Initially, Brooks’ leadership was promising, guiding the Rams to a 5-1 start. However, they suffered a horrible collapse, finishing the season 2-8. In their 5-1 start, the offense was ranked 5th in the league. In their 2-8 finish, it was ranked 27th. Chris Miller and two-year wonder Mark Rypien didn’t manage much in terms of statistics, and defenses easily keyed on Jerome Bettis, as he continued to regress, rushing for only 637 yards on 183 carries.

The defense was again an issue, giving up 418 points.

In 1996, the roster was completely refreshed. In the draft, St. Louis made one of the worst mistakes ever, drafting Lawrence Phillips with the 6th overall pick, passing on players like Eddie George, Marvin Harrison and Ray Lewis.

Lawrence Philips

Lawrence “Jailbird” Phillips rushing for minimal yardage, which he specialized in.

Lawrence Phillips was a mediocre running back with way too many off the field troubles and distractions to be a successful professional player. He finished 1996 with 193 carries for 632 yards and 4 touchdowns. The real crime here that in order to sign Phillips, the Rams dumped Jerome Bettis in favor of him. In two years in St. Louis, Phillips spent 23 days in prison.

Tony Banks and Steve Walsh were now entrenched as the starting quarterbacks. Banks couldn’t stop fumbling the ball, and Walsh could barely throw the ball 30 yards. Not a good pair if you ask me. Banks started more games, finishing with a starting record of 5-8. He threw 15 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, took 48 sacks, and fumbled 21 times, setting a league record (since broken). Due to his erratic play and off-the-field controversies, Banks was disliked by St. Louis fans and media, and was out of the city by the end of 1998.

Tony Banks

St. Louis finished 1996 with a 6-10 record, averaging 18.9 points per game on offense and giving up 25.6 on defense. The highlight of the year came against Atlanta, in which they torched the Falcons’ awful defense for 59 points. Safety Keith Lyle also tied for first in the league with interceptions, with 9. Nevertheless, Rich Brooks was fired at the end of the season, with a record of 13-19 in St. Louis. His tenure was summed up with William Floyd and his 49er teammates mocking the crowd in a 44-10 rout in 1995, mocking them on the sidelines.

Same old Rams, man.

Same old SORRY-ass Rams!

Yeah!

In 1997, Dick Vermeil was hired, after a 15 year absence from the NFL. At first, it seemed the game had very much become too advanced for him, as the Rams finished with another yawn-inducing 5-11 season. Tony Banks again matched his TD – INT ratio blow-for-blow, finishing with a 14-13 mix. He was sacked 43 times. Mark Rypien was back, appearing in 5 games. Lawrence Phillips began the season with a promising 634 yard performance across 10 games. Vermeil then told him he was going to be second-string due to his discontent with Phillips’ off-the-field problems. Enraged, Phillips stormed out of the Rams’ facility, and was cut from the team. Vermeil, teary-eyed, then stated that Phillips was potentially the best running back he ever had a chance to coach.

Same ol’ story. Bad offense, bad defense, no clutch performance.

St. Louis started 1998 2-3, but stumbled and finished 4-12. Tony Banks was a living, breathing turnover, fumbling the ball 10 times and throwing 14 interceptions to only 7 touchdowns. June Henley, the leading rusher on the team, only had 313 yards on 88 attempts and 3 touchdowns. The defense gave up 23.6 points per game. However, Kurt Warner made his first appearance on the team, then donned with the number 10. He appeared in one game, completing 4 of 11 passes. However, the team had assembled an extremely talented roster, and in 1999, we all know what happened.

Running back Marshall Faulk was acquired from the Indianapolis Colts, and Trent Green was named the starter.

Trent Greenm

However, in a pre-season game against San Diego, Trent Green was injured and was out for the season. Kurt Warner was then named the starter, and then came Dick Vermeil’s famous press conference:

It hurts. But we will rally around Kurt Warner, and we’ll play good football.

And then they did. The Greatest Show on Turf began, with Warner’s star-studded offense including players like Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Orlando Pace. Warner was named the NFL’s MVP, as he passed for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns. The defense was good, and the Rams ran away with the NFC West title with a 13-3 record, in the process ending a 17 game losing streak to the 49ers. They then beat the Vikings and Buccaneers in the playoffs to 49-37 and 11-6 scores, before beating the Tennessee Titans 23-16 in the Super Bowl, becoming the greatest turnaround in NFL history.

Like the title says, the Rams weren’t as terrible as the Bengals during the decade, but they came very close, and deserve the honorable mention as much as anyone.

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