Coming off of an 11-5 season and an appearance in the 1989 NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Los Angeles Rams entered the 1990 season with high hopes of finally reaching the Super Bowl after numerous playoff appearances in the 1980s. Jim Everett was an established NFL quarterback entering the prime of his career. Head coach John Robinson appeared to have his team poised for a deep run in the playoffs. Instead, the Rams fell woefully short, finishing 5-11 and ending the season on a four-game losing streak.
The Rams contended for the playoffs throughout much of the 1980s, but key changes to the team entering the 1989 and 1990 seasons put the team on a new path. In truth, much of the core that kept the Rams in contention in the mid-1980s were turned over for younger replacements. The core of the team became a younger, inexperienced group. One major piece of the Rams offense was missing at the start of the 1990 NFL season. Greg Bell, the starting running back for the Rams who rushed for over 2300 yards over the past two seasons, was traded to the Raiders in exchange for several draft picks. Former Seattle Seahawks star running back Curt Warner signed hoping to win the starting job.
Warner proved to be a disaster. When Warner was given the opportunity it was clear that his days in the NFL were close to an end. In a five -game stretch shortly before being released by the Rams, he produced only had 25 yards rushing on 11 carries. The running game, a staple in Robinson’s offense throughout the 80s, was 16th out of 28 teams in rushing. Backups Cleveland Gary and Gaston Green eventually ended up getting the majority of the carries.
The defense also took a major step back in 1990. They were near the bottom in most major defensive categories. Under the direction of defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur the Rams allowed 25.8 points per game, 8th worst in the NFL. They also allowed the second most passing yards in the NFL. While the Rams were a top ten team in rush yards allowed, their inability to stop the passing attack led to their losing season in 1990.
Los Angeles was still in the playoff race after 12 games. At 5-7, the Rams had a chance to reinvigorate their slim hopes when they faced division rival New Orleans Saints in a Week 13 matchup. Unfortunatey, the Rams squandered a 20-10 fourth quarter lead after a costly turnover by Cleveland Gary turnover resulted in a Saints comeback, defeating the Rams 24-20. At 5-8, Los Angeles mailed it in for the rest of the season, losing the final four games.
The 1990 Los Angeles Rams was a team that was poorly built from the start even though it appeared differently on paper at the beginning of the year. While Everett produced his only Pro Bowl campaign and the offense was near the top in every major category, the Rams defense ultimately led to their mediocre 5-11 record, the first of five consecutive seasons of 10 or more losses.
Sources: NFL.com, NFL Films, ABC sports, pro-football-reference.com, ESPN.com
Martin Cruz is a staff writer for Rams Talk. You can follow him on his Twitter account by following him at @MCruz1988.