The Best Steelers Quarterback Ever: Bradshaw or Roethlisberger?

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images)
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images) /
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Terry Bradshaw (12) of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Photo by Sylvia Allen/Getty Images) /

Terry Bradshaw Stats

Chuck Noll drafted Terry Bradshaw first in the 1970 NFL draft as the Steelers had the first pick. They had the worst record in the NFL in 1969, finishing 1-13. Bradshaw entered the league at 6’3” 215 pounds. Not a small guy, but smaller than Ben Roethlisberger.

He played 13 full seasons and only one game in 1983 due to an elbow injury before retiring. He played in 158 games had a 107-51-0 record as the quarterback. He has 2025 completions for 27,989 yards and 212 touchdowns. He also had 210 interceptions and 307 sacks. Impressive numbers, though they fail to what Ben Roethlisberger has put up. However, one needs to go inside the stats to get a better insight as to how the era Bradshaw played in affected his stats. Here are some of Bradshaw’s passing highlights.

In 1978 the Mel Blount rule went into effect, opening up the passing game considerably. He led the league twice in touchdowns after that in 1978 and 1982. So keep that in mind. If you split his career pre-Mel Blount Rule and Post Mel Blount rule, he performed much better than the raw stats indicate. From 1978 Bradshaw passed for 14,710 yards with 1017 completions with 119 touchdowns in 71 games; thus, he averaged 207.18 yards per game and averaged 1.67 touchdowns per game along with about 14.32 completions per game. Before 1978 he had 13,279 yards, 1008 completions, and 93 touchdowns in 97 games. In this period, he averaged 143.01 yards per game, 10.5 completions per game, and .968 touchdowns per game. He performed better after the Mel Blount rule went into effect. Taking that into consideration, and using his averages, how would Bradshaw have fared if he played his entire career under the Mel Blunt rule? If he had the luxury of an opened up passing game, Bradshaw would have passed for approximately 34,806 yards and 2405 completions with 280 touchdowns.

Keep this in mind Bradshaw also played in an abbreviated season for part of his career. The NFL did not expand to the 16 game season until 1978 as well. If you adjust for the expanded season length (and the strike year in 1982), his numbers get even better. He would have passed for close to 39,364 yards and 317 touchdowns. Despite what the raw numbers indicate, it’s hard to fathom how well the Steelers would have done in the ’70s without Bradshaw. Keep in mind that even though passing rules became more favorable to the offense beginning in 1978, the rules protecting quarterbacks from late hits never came till much later, and Bradshaw took his lumps and missed quite a few games. Had the stricter rules been in place conceivably, he might not have blown out his elbow and played another five years.

Ok, now look at playoffs. Overall in the playoffs, Bradshaw is 14-5 with 261 completions and 3833 passing yards. If you break his playoff stats down into pre and post, Mel Blount Rule eras, he looks even more impressive. If Bradshaw had the luxury of the Mel Blount rule in the playoffs for the duration of his career, he would have had approximately 368 completions for 5320 yards and 38 touchdowns. Monster numbers for 19 playoff games. No matter how you slice it, when it came to the playoffs, he elevated his game.

Another thing to keep in mind when looking at Bradshaw’s passing stats is his offensive line. Face it, Bradshaw over his career nearly had the same base core of offensive lineman and a dang superb offensive line at that. He had Mike Webster as his center from 1974 until he retired along with Ray Mansfield. Jon Kolb played on the offensive line Bradshaw’s entire career. Gerry Mullins played from 1971-1979, and Sam Davis played from 1967-1979, both retiring after the last Superbowl. Steve Courson started in 1978 and left Pittsburgh after Bradshaw retired. Ray Pinney Started in 1976 and retired three years after Bradshaw.  As a result, opponents only sacked Bradshaw 307 times over 168 games. His sack ratio comes out to 1.82 sacks per game. Much less than Ben Roethlisberger’s.