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Brad v. Ben; A look at their first eight years, Part Two

This is Part Two in my comparison of Pittsburgh Steelers’ Quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger through the first eight seasons of their respective careers. Be sure to check out Part One which covered their playoff and Super Bowl numbers.

In Part Two, I’m looking at not just the the regular season numbers for the two stars but also the intangibles as I did in Part One. Intangibles for me are defined as offensive style, the coaches, key players around them, etc.

As I turn to the numbers, remember that Bradshaw played the majority of his seasons in a 14-game schedule versus the 16-games schedule that Roethlisberger plays in today. While not huge, the 2-game per season difference does add up over time.


  • Attempts/Completions – 2,019/1,008
  • Completion Percentage – 49.9%
  • Touchdowns – 93
  • Interceptions – 118
  • Average Yards per Completion – 12.9
  • Win/Loss Record – 57 Wins 30 Losses


  • Attempts/Completions – 3,313/2,090
  • Completion Percentage – 63.0%
  • Touchdowns – 165
  • Interceptions – 100
  • Average Yards per Completion – 12.8%
  • Win/Loss Record – 80 Wins 33 Losses

Breaking Them Down: Yesterday I gave Roethlisberger a slight advantage over Bradshaw in playoff and Super Bowl games played based largely on his significantly higher numbers, playing from behind more often and doing it behind a less effective offensive line. In the regular season, it becomes a clear ‘no contest’ with one exception which I’ll get to later.

Bradshaw spent a good deal of time on the pine early in his career as he struggled with turnovers and grasping the style of play Head Coach Chuck Noll wanted from him. Bradshaw was forced to give way to Joe Gilliam and Terry Hanratty at particular points in his career before finally taking the reins during the latter stages of the 1974 season which ended in victory in Super Bowl IX.

Roethlisberger on the other hand was drafted with the knowledge that he would be brought along slowly behind the newly revitalized Tommy Maddox and back-up Charlie Batch but that plan quickly went out the window in his rookie season. With Batch injured in the preseason and Maddox injured in the second game of the season at Baltimore, Roethlisberger stepped in and would promptly go 13-0 in his starts in 2004.

Both Bradshaw and Roethlisberger were beneficiaries of strong running games early in their careers. While Bradshaw would be allowed to open up the offense in the late 1970’s, he still had a succesful running attack behind Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. For Roethlisberger, he benefited from Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker, but would soon need to rely on his passing skills quicker than Bradshaw due to the retirement of Bettis and the decline of the offensive line.

Let’s get back to the numbers. Roethlisberger is clearly a more successful QB in regards to pure numbers. The most telling statistic is completion percentage where Bradshaw trails¬†by a whopping 13 percentage points. In fact, his final overall career completion percentage was just barely over 50%. By today’s standards, that’s atrocious.

What’s interesting is that of the top 75 quarterbacks with the highest overall completion percentages only three played a significant amount of their careers in the 1970’s! Danny White, Ken Anderson, and Dan Fouts were all around 58-59% career passers. Everyone else on the list is from the 80’s through today.

Why does that matter? Because the style of offense changed dramatically in the early 1980’s. The NFL went from a vertical, deep passing game to a spread’em out, short passing game that relied on faster receivers to make plays with the ball.

This is not in any way meant to detract from Roethlisberger or build up Bradshaw’s pathetic completion percentage, but it must be noted how significantly the game has changed. Bradshaw will always be one of the greatest deep ball throwers of his or any generation while Roethlisberger struggles with accuracy on many of his deep passes.

This part of the discussion leads directly to the one stat I’d mention I would get to later and that’s average yards per completion. Both quarterbacks are essentially tied in this category with just under 13.0 yards per completion. Amazingly close considering that Roethlisberger completed more passes in eight years than Bradshaw attempted!

What it says is that quite simply, Bradshaw was a deep ball passer and a guy who looked for those 15 yard out and in patterns whereas Roethlisberger has thrown much more over the middle and in the flats at the 6 to 10 yard range and allowed his receivers to make plays. Very different styles with very similar results in this respect.

The Intangibles: Both of these men had great receiving corps to throw to and included two Hall of Famers (Lynn Swann and John Stallworth) and an almost certain one in Hines Ward.

Both men were coached by no nonsense guys who had clear expectations for their men under center and you can add Mike Tomlin in there as well. As we discussed yesterday, the defenses spoke for themselves, but I give the clear advantage to Bradshaw to having a more dominant, more consistent defense to have on his side.

One thing we cannot overlook is the significance of the rules of the game too when it came to the passing game. When the ‘Mel Blount’ Rule was put into effect, Bradshaw took advantage of his receivers being able to move freely throughout the secondary. Prior to this, DBs could consistently harass receivers wherever they may be. This rule change altered the game forever and opened up the passing game significantly which again points to those higher completion percentages after the rule was enacted.

The Verdict: As a young boy growing up in the 1970’s Terry Bradshaw was always my favorite player. The Blonde Bomber is still my favorite today regardless of how goofy or wacky he is. He and the toothless grin of Jack Lambert are why I became a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

On September 1st, 2001, I witnessed Ben Roethlisberger’s first collegiate start in a loss to Michigan in the Big House. I couldn’t help but think how athletic and big he was and for my QB-starved Steelers he would look great in black ‘n gold, but that was a pipe dream back then.

Roethlisberger in my opinion is clearly the better quarterback of the two over their first eight years. His numbers bear that out in almost every statistical way possible. Both men played with good weapons at their disposal and both had excellent defenses so those intangibles are almost a wash. Although I tip my hat to Bradshaw for his play-calling and deep passing skills, Roethlisberger clearly is the better overall quarterback through eight years.

There is however one number that Roethlisberger may need to get before anyone can crown him the greatest Steeler QB of all time and that number would be four. As in Four Super Bowl rings. Uh-oh, I may have started another controversial discussion there….

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