As the Rams prepare to take on the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday at the Georgia Dome, I feel like now is the appropriate time to address something that has been sticking in my craw for a little while.
When Steven Jackson said goodbye to the Rams and signed with the Falcons this offseason, ESPN’s Adam Schefter sent out the following tweet.
With respect to Rams, Falcons might have Greatest Show on Turf: Steven Jackson, Roddy White, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 14, 2013
In fairness, Schefter was probably just tweeting this lightheartedly, but the sentiment has stuck. Fans and media alike have compared the Falcons’ offense to the Rams’ offense from 1999-2001. Roddy White is presumably Isaac Bruce; Julio Jones is Torry Holt; Steven Jackson is Marshall Faulk; Matt Ryan is Kurt Warner and Tony Gonzalez is Az Hakim I suppose since the Rams used Hakim more often than a traditional TE.
Take a look at those comparisons for a minute.
If you’re like me, then this is what came to mind.
You, Atlanta Falcons, are no Greatest Show on Turf.
I’m not taking anything away from those guys. All five of the Falcons I listed are either surefire, first ballot Hall of Famers (Gonzalez) or have the potential to make it to Canton someday if their respective careers break the right way (everyone else).
But the only thing the Falcons have in common with the Greatest Show on Turf (GSOT)-era Rams is that they play in a dome. In fact, all of the high-end prolific offenses (for the purposes of this column, I’m considering the 21 teams in NFL history that have averaged 31 points per game or more in a season) have lacked the one weapon that sets the GSOT apart – Marshall Faulk.
Marshall Faulk is the main reason why if I had to choose one offense in the history of the NFL to score a TD, no matter what defense they’re up against, I would pick the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf-era offense. Not only was Faulk a world-class rusher who could make even the best tacklers look foolish, he also was an excellent pass blocker on the rare situations that the Rams didn’t send him out to run a route.
Of course, because of Faulk’s exceptional pass-catching ability, he was kept in to block about as often as Warner scrambled. Faulk’s soft hands, exquisite route-running and all around shiftiness could’ve landed him a spot as a starting WR for a good number of teams from 1999-2001.
Faulk’s ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, out of the slot and even split wide, gave Warner three elite weapons – Bruce and Holt being the other two – to whom he could throw. (Not to mention that Hakim certainly wasn’t a slouch. Neither was TE Ernie Conwell (when he was healthy) or WR Ricky Proehl, who was largely responsible for sending the Rams to the Super Bowl in 1999.)
Of course, lots of teams over the past few years have had four really good pass-catchers (either WRs or TEs), most notably the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots. All of these offenses are obviously great. Going back to the 21 teams in NFL history that have averaged more than 31 points, the list includes four recent Pats teams (2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012), two recent Saints teams (2009 and 2011) and one recent Packers team (2011).
However, none of those seven rosters featured a weapon like Faulk. Reggie Bush of the ’09 Saints might’ve been the closest rendition, but he’s a poor man’s Faulk as a receiver (to be fair, that’s the ceiling for almost any RB) and never could – and still can’t – run in traffic. Faulk excelled in traffic and was somehow even better in the open field. Nobody could stop him during those three years, and if it wasn’t for his own QB winning MVP in ’99 and ‘01, Faulk probably would’ve won the MVP in each of those three seasons.
Alas, he only was able to take home the hardware in 2000, when he set an NFL record with 26 total TDs. In fact, if you’d like to just drool for a second, I’ll go ahead and let you do so by listing Faulk’s GSOT-era regular season stats (Pay special attention to the fact that he missed two games in both 2000 and 2001 and therefore could’ve had even better stats.)
- 1999: 16 games; 253 rushes, 1,381 yards (5.5 ypc); 7 TDs. 87 catches, 1,048 yards (12.0 ypc); 5 TDs. Second player in NFL history to amass 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season
- 2000: 14 games; 253 rushes, 1,359 yards (5.4 ypc); 18 TDs. 81 catches, 830 yards (10.2 ypc); 8 TDs. Won MVP and set NFL record for total TDs.
- 2001: 14 games; 260 rushes, 1,382 yards (5.3 ypc); 12 TDs. 83 catches, 765 yards (9.2 ypc); 9 TDs.
One more thing to keep in mind about the GSOT-era Rams, who scored 500 or more points in all three of those seasons and rank sixth (2000), ninth (1999) and 20th (2001) in total points scored in a season: They put up these incredible numbers in an era where defenders had free reign to basically commit felonies on offensive skill position guys without fear of reprisal from the league. The Packers, Patriots and Saints have all put up their numbers in a pass-happy era where WRs are much freer to go over the middle without fear, where any contact beyond five yards is a penalty, and where any hit that’s questionable in the least is flagged and likely results in a fine or even a suspension.
We could go deep into a “LeBron vs. MJ-esque” rabbit hole trying to analyze how the GSOT-era Rams would do with today’s rules or vice versa with the great offenses of today, but I think we can all agree that it’s highly unlikely that there will ever be another weapon like Marshall Faulk and therefore there will never be another Greatest Show on Turf.
I suggest Falcons fans think of a new nickname for their offense.