Approaching week 3 in the NFL, we’re seeing two distinct characteristic among the two top teams in the NFC, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams.
In 1999, the Bucs had a dominant top defense that finished third and a dominant running game. The Rams finished as the top offense by far with their top passing game that came be known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Currently, the Bucs rank third in total offense thanks to their passing game. The Rams are currently third in defense and have a dominant running game.
There’s speculation that the two remaining undefeated teams left in the NFC are paralleling each other as they did in the 1999 season, but in reverse.
Unfortunately, that’s really where the similarities end. For interest of fairness, I’ll compare the 1999 Bucs with the 2018 LA Rams and the 2018 Bucs with the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Let’s break down the situations by position and their positional counterpart, shall we?
2018 Bucs Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. 1999 Rams Kurt Warner
It’s amazing two weeks into the NFL season, no other QB in league history has done what Fitzpatrick has done, which is start the season throwing for 400 passing yards and 4 touchdowns in consecutive games. Patriots’ Tom Brady and Panthers’ Cam Newton are the two other QBs who thrown for 400 yards in consecutive games to start the season before Fitz. Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Patriots’ Drew Bledsoe have thrown for four touchdowns in consecutives to start the season.
Now that we’ve acknowledged “FitzMagic’s” amazing feat, let’s break down his career. In Fitzpatrick’s 14 year career, ironically he was drafted by the Rams in 2005 spending his first two seasons with the team. He would bounce around as a journeyman to the Cincinnati Bengals for two years, Buffalo Bills for four, Tennessee Titans for one, Houston Texans for one, New York Jets for two and now, the Bucs for his second year. That’s eight teams due to his erratic play despite having being declared to be each team’s starter at some point.
Those familiar with his exploits know he tends to start off hot, then when week 3 comes, the crashes back to earth faster than most asteroids. The only thing Fitzpatrick has proved in his long career is his longevity as a life-long backup and spot starter. Whether or not, he can get that week three chip off his shoulder against the Steelers on Monday night remains to be seen.
There’s plenty of season left before we can officially declare him the new “Rich Gannon.” Fitzpatrick currently has 27,810 passing yards and 181 passing TDs.
Meanwhile, Kurt Warner’s NFL career you can define him as a late bloomer since after being signed undrafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1994, he spent three seasons with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League and spent a year in NFL Europe for the Amsterdam Admirals before his opportunity with the Rams arrived in 1998. The following season, Warner was the primary backup to Trent Green. When Green was lost for the season due to an ACL tear, the league wasn’t prepared for the devastation from the Greatest Show on Turf where Warner finished with 4,353 passing yards, 41 touchdowns and a QB rating of 109.2.
The fact Warner was able to sustain his level of play throughout the season was amazing. His averages came out to 272 yards and 2.5 touchdowns a game, which is possible, but unusual as teams commonly encounter games when the offense can get shut down in a low scoring affair. He did end up finishing his 12-year career playing for the New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals even making a second Super Bowl appearance, but in a losing fashion. He finished with 32,344 yards and 208 TD for his career.
Whether or not Fitzpatrick can sustain his 400 plus yards and 4 TDs a game is impossible and even if he approaches near those numbers, the Bucs are facing a desperate winless Steelers team. His history remains a constant reminder why he is career backup.
Is it possible Fitzpatrick can sustain, meet and possibly beat Warner’s numbers from 1999? Yes, he could, but history says otherwise.
Not spending too much time on 1999 Bucs QB Shaun King and 2018’s Rams Jared Goff. I can only go by King’s averages, because he took over Trent Dilfer after he suffered a season-ending injury. King averaged 146 passing yards a game, while Goff averages 294 yards.
This is a hard one to do mainly, because the 1999 Bucs thrived on a running back by committee with Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott, otherwise known locally as “Thunder and Lighting” They combined for 1,565 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs, 828 receiving yards and 4 receiving TDs. That averages to 97.8 rushing yards and 51.8 receiving yards a game.
Meanwhile the 2018 Rams’ Todd Gurley, who is their featured back, and Malcolm Brown, his spellback, combined for an average of 100.5 rushing yards and 43 receiving yards a game. If the pace holds, they would have superior stats to the Bucs’ 1999 tandem. Gurley scored all 3 rushing TDs and a receiving TD from the pair.
On the other side, 2018 Bucs’ Payton Barber through two games has an average of 45.5 yards on the ground, 3.5 yards in the air, and 0 touchdowns. Meanwhile 1999 Rams’ Marshall Faulk finished with 1,381 rushing yards, 7 rushing TDs, 1,048 receiving yards, and 5 receiving TDs. That averages out to 86 rushing yards a game and 65 receiving yards a game. Here’s hoping Barber can overcome his slow start, but the edge clearly goes to Faulk.
The 2018 Bucs’ top three receivers are wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans and tight end OJ Howard so far. They combined to average 327.5 receiving yards a game. The 1999 Rams’ top three receivers are wide receiver Isaac Bruce, running back Faulk, and Torry Holt combine for an average of 187.6 receiving yards a game.
The next three for the 2018 Bucs are wide receivers Chris Godwin and Adam Humphries, and running back Jaquizz Rodgers who combine for an average of 78.5 yards a game. The next three for the 1999 Rams are wide receivers Az-Zahir Hakim and Ricky Proehl, and tight end Roland Williams who combine for an average of 82.5 yards a game.
When it comes to the observations of both these teams, the averages for the 2018 Bucs is inconclusive mainly, because it’s physically impossible to maintain the averages with the current output of passing. Yes over 800 yards through two games will do that. The only thing you can conclude from these squads so far is how well Fitzpatrick and Warner could distribute the ball.
Looking at the 1999 Bucs vs. the 2018 Rams tells a different story. With no 1,000 yard receiver, the 1999 Bucs top three receivers of WR Jacquez Green, RB Dunn, and WR Reidel Anthony combined for an average of 111.5 yards a game. The 2018 Rams top three receivers are currently WR Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, who combine for an average of 239.5 yards a game.
The 1999 Bucs finished third in yards in total defense and third in points surrendered. This averages to total yards 267.5 yards a game given up and 14.7 points a game.
The 2018 Rams are currently third in total defense surrendering an average of 266 yards a game. They also surrendered the least amount of points averaging 6.5 points a game.
The average for points surrendered is likely to change as the 2018 season presses on and the Rams and Bucs are even on yards given up per game.
The 2018 Bucs are next to last in yards surrendered per game at 443.5 and 27th in points given up with an average of 30.5 a game. The 1999 Rams gave up an average of 293 yards a game for sixth in the league and 15.1 points a game, which is fourth in the league.
The 2018 Bucs offense is still forging their identity and we need more games to determine if they can more fairly compare to the 1999 Super Bowl Champion Rams offense. Passing is well above pace, but will level off as season goes, but the 2018 Bucs rushing is far inferior and might improve as the season progresses. While I can see Barber possibly finish with just over 1,000, 1,300 might be a little more difficult as he would share the load with Rodgers and passing is more emphasized under Monken’s playcalling.
Also what we are not considering is how future performances will affect Fitzpatrick’s status as the starter for the team. If he loses 1-2 games and/or underperforms in that span, the coaching is not above pulling the plug and reinserting their franchise QB Jameis Winston, who is returning from suspension following Monday night’s game.
When it’s the reverse, the 2018 Rams’ defense is on pace to be on par with the 1999 Bucs defense. The 1999 Bucs offense is likely to be far inferior to the 2018 Rams offense. The 1999 Rams defense finished far superior than the rate the 2018 Bucs defense is currently going. Edge is on Rams currently.
We’ll likely revisit the 2018 Bucs offense vs. the 1999 Rams offense at the half way point. For now, it’s far too inconclusive.