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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Franchise Quarterback On The Roster?

Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers at quarterback from 2004 to 2022. This year, the Steelers will have a new quarterback. The question is when will the next Steelers franchise quarterback emerge and is he on this season’s roster.

THE BRADSHAW ERA

The Pittsburgh Steelers have just two franchise quarterbacks in their long history. Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger helped earn six Lombardi Trophies for the Black and Gold. From 1970 to 1982, Terry Bradshaw started 157 of 185 regular season games played by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He appeared in ten games as a backup. Terry Hanratty and Joe Gilliam filled the backup role from 1970 through 1975. Then Mike Kruczek backstopped from 1976 to 1979. Pittsburgh selected two quarterbacks in the 1980 draft. Mark Malone in the first round and Cliff Stoudt in the fifth. Hanratty started 12 games during the Bradshaw era. Gilliam made seven starts. The Steelers won all six games Mike Kruczek started in 1976 but never threw a touchdown pass. Bradshaw started every game from 1977 through 1979. Then Stoudt picked up a start in 1980. Mark Malone started two in 1981 both narrow losses.

Here are some statistics for backup quarterbacks that started games during the Bradshaw era:

Name GS Record CMP ATT CMP% Yards TDs INTs Sack PY/G
Terry Hanratty 12 6W-6L 59 156 37.8 925 7 13 7 77.1
Joe Gilliam 7 4W-2L-1T 91 205 44.4 1205 4 11 7 172.1
Mike Kruczek 6 6W-0L 43 72 59.7 577 0 3 9 96.2
Cliff Stoudt 1 0W-1L 18 37 48.6 310 0 1 1 310
Mark Malone 2 0W-2L 28 60 46.7 309 1 3 6 154.5

Statistics from Pro Football Reference

In fact, Bradshaw’s last season as a fulltime starter was in the strike-shortened 1982 season. He started all nine games but began his final season on the bench due to injuries. He completed 28 of 39 passes for 325 yards and two touchdowns in his final playoff appearance. But his two interceptions contributed to a 31-28 loss to the San Diego Chargers. Bradshaw had offseason elbow surgery. So, Cliff Stoudt started the first 14 games in 1983. Bradshaw started the next game against the New York Jets. But he reinjured his elbow throwing a touchdown pass to Calvin Sweeney to stake out a 14-0 lead. He left the game never to play again.

21 SEASON GAP

There was a 21 season gap from Terry Bradshaw’s last game in 1983 and Ben Roethlisberger’s emergence in 2004. 13 quarterbacks started games for the Pittsburgh Steelers following Bradshaw’s final game. Until finally, Ben Roethlisberger started his first game in week three of his rookie season in 2004.

Here are the statistics for those thirteen interim starting quarterbacks:

Name Seasons G GS Record Cmp ATT CMP% Yards TDs INTs Y/C Y/G Rating Sacks
Cliff Stoudt 1980-1983 30 16 9W-7L 244 479 50.9 3217 14 28 13.2 107.2 57.9 56
Mark Malone 1980-1987 60 46 21W-24L 690 1374 50.2 8582 54 68 12.4 143 62.4 77
David Woodley 1984-1987 60 46 21W-24L 690 1374 50.2 8582 54 68 12.4 143 62.4 77
Scott Campbell 1984-1986 24 2 0W-2L 51 115 44.3 721 5 7 14.1 30 54.3 11
Bubby Brister 1986-1992` 61 57 28W-29L 776 1477 52.5 10104 51 57 13 165.6 69.8 145
Steve Bono 1987-1988 5 3 2W-1L 44 109 40.4 548 6 4 12.5 109.6 59.7 7
Todd Blackledge 1988-1989 6 5 2W-3L 60 139 43.2 776 3 6 12.9 129.3 50.5 8
Neil O’Donnell 1991-1995 66 61 39W-22L 1069 1871 57.1 12867 68 39 12 195 81.8 148
Mike Tomczak 1993-1999 84 27 15W-12L 546 973 56.1 6649 37 43 12.2 79.2 71.6 50
Jim Miller 1995-1996 5 1 0W-1L 45 81 55.6 520 2 5 11.6 104 57.6 4
Kordell Stewart 1995-2002 113 80 46W-29L 1190 2107 56.5 13328 70 72 11.2 117.9 72.3 145
Kent Graham 2000 12 5 2W-3L 66 148 44.6 878 1 1 13.3 73.2 63.4 13
Tommy Maddox 2001-2005 42 32 15W-16L-1T 603 1036 58.2 7139 42 40 11.8 170 76.7 82

Statistics from Pro Football Reference

Neil O’Donnell and Kordell Stewart lead this group. But even with a Super Bowl and several playoff seasons neither qualifies as a franchise quarterback.

THE ROETHLISBERGER ERA

Ben Roethlisberger anchored the Steelers from 2004 through 2021. He started 247 of 289 regular season games during that span. That’s over 85% of the games. He also came in off the bench in his NFL debut and later in 2015. He started all regular season games four times: 2008, 2013, 2014, and 2018. Eight back-up quarterbacks started 42 games during the Roethlisberger era. Tommy Maddox was not technically a back-up in 2004 but soon became one. He started five games 2004-2005. Charlie Batch started nine games between 2005 and 2012. Dennis Dix got three starts, Byron Leftwich one, Michael Vick three and Landry Jones five. Then Duck Hodges got five six starts in 2019 when Ben went on injured reserve after the second game. Mason Rudolph started eight games in 2019. Then one each in 2021 and 2022.

Here are some statistics for backup quarterbacks that started games during the Roethlisberger era:

Name GS Record CMP ATT CMP% Yards TDs INTs Sack PY/G
Tommy Maddox 5 2W-3L 59 123 48.0 713 3 6 14 142.6
Charlie Batch 9 6W-3L 137 221 62.0 1652 9 11 9 183.6
Dennis Dixon 3 2W-1L 34 58 58.6 399 1 2 5 133.0
Byron Leftwich 1 0W-1L 18 31 58.1 179 0 1 4 179.0
Michael Vick 3 2W-1L 35 60 58.3 333 2 1 8 111.0
Landry Jones 5 3W-2L 95 144 66.0 1029 6 5 9 205.8
Duck Hodges 6 3W-3L 88 140 62.9 877 4 8 13 146.2
Mason Rudolph 10 5W-4L-1T 202 333 60.7 2081 13 10 15 208.1

Statistics from Pro Football Reference

CONCLUSION

Mason Rudolph remains on the roster. But the Steelers acquired veteran Mitch Trubisky during the offseason. Plus, Pittsburgh drafted Kenny Pickett in the first round. Currently, Mitch Trubisky appears set to start week one of the 2022 season. But will Mike Tomlin opt to start Kenny Pickett at some point in the season? The Roethlisberger era has ended. Will one of these quarterbacks start one of their own or just be another name on a list on interims starters?

Your Song Selection

I always like to include a bit of music. It’s the end of an era and looking to find a new one. Here is End of an Era by the Strumbellas.

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