With the Super Bowl just days away and no identifiable rooting interest for most Pittsburgh Steelers fans, depression may begin to set in.
The simplest way to alleviate these feelings is to recall the glory days.
While much has been made of the '70s “Steel Curtain” defense, the Steelers also fielded several future Hall of Famers on the other side of the ball in that dynastic decade.
And it’s true; a lot of the team's recent success can be attributed to the likes of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. Nonetheless, it’s certainly arguable that they wouldn’t have reached Super Bowl glory without the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward.
So which of the Steelers’ six Super Bowl winning offenses was the best? Which was the worst?
Read on to find out.
Ranking Criteria: This list was compiled based on a multitude of factors. Primarily, points scored as well as individual successes and accolades.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Steelers least offensively polished Super Bowl squad was their first one. This 1974 squad scored at the second-worst rate of any team on this list in the both the regular and post seasons.
The strength of this team offensively was in its run game. These Steelers boasted 6 players with at least 100 rushing yards and Franco Harris lead the way with just over 1,000. That campaign earned Harris his third consecutive Pro Bowl bid.
The primary reason this team finds itself last on these rankings is instability at the quarterback position. Each of Terry Hanratty, Joe Gilliam and Terry Bradshaw all saw time under center. Not one of the trio had a positive touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Of course, Bradshaw would go on to have an efficient postseason run en route to the team’s first Super Bowl win and entrench himself as a starter for the next decade.
While this offense gained notoriety with one of the best game-winning drives ever, they underwhelmed through much of the season.
Averaging 21.7 points per game, this team was the lowest scoring squad of any to qualify for this list. Those struggles on offense were predominantly due to a lackluster offensive line.
That unit gave up 49 total sacks, easily the largest total of any Steelers Super Bowl-winning team. Getting hit so often seemed to cause then-fifth-year signal-caller Ben Roethlisberger to regress. Roethlisberger threw just two more touchdowns than picks and had the second-worst quarterback rating (80.0) of his career.
Along with their pass protection woes, the Steelers offensive line underwhelmed in the running game. In fact, they gain the dubious distinction of being the only team on this list to run for under 2,000 yards.
The team just barely averaged over 100 rushing yards per game and is the only Super Bowl champion Steelers squad without a 1,000-yard rusher to its credit. Their lead back, Willie Parker, fell more than 200 yards short of the mark.
Of the six Steelers teams to hoist the Lomardi Trophy, the 1978 squad was middle of the pack in terms of scoring offense and is slotted thusly.
To that team’s credit, however, it did boast the highest playoff-scoring total of all Steeler championship teams at 34 points per game.
Terry Bradshaw set a career high with 28 touchdown passes and garnered his first and only All-Pro selection. At the time, that touchdown total was 10 better than his previous single-season best.
Most of Bradshaw’s scoring passes were hauled in by his Hall of Fame receiving duo of John Stallworth and Lynn Swann. The tandem hauled in over two-thirds (1,678) of Bradshaw’s 2,915 passing yards and 20 of his 28 scoring passes. Swann was also selected to that season's All-Pro team.
From a volume standpoint, the run game was as good as ever with nearly 2,300 yards and 16 touchdowns. However, none of the team’s top-four rushers surpassed 3.8 yards per carry.
Excluding his dismal last season with the Seahawks, Franco Harris’ YPC of 3.5 in 1978 was the worst of his career.
Like the team they’re slotted ahead of, the 2005 Steelers topped 100 total points on their playoff run. But this team averaged 24.3 points per game, two points better than the 1978 team.
In just his second season, Ben Roethlisberger continued to play efficient football, posting a nearly 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. In fact, his stat line reads very similarly to Terry Bradshaw’s first Pro Bowl campaign 30 years earlier.
Hines Ward served as Roethlisberger’s primary target and hauled in 11 touchdown receptions. ’05 was the last time Ward would score more than seven touchdowns in a season. Ward missed one game that season and fell just 25 yards short of his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
The ’05 season also saw the emergence of running back Willie Parker. Just a year removed from going undrafted, Parker topped 1,200 rushing yards and led the team in yards from scrimmage.
Complementing Parker in the backfield was Jerome Bettis. In his last professional season, Bettis had been relegated to a short-yardage role and responded with nine rushing scores.
At 26.6 points per game, the 1975 Steelers scored at the highest rate of any of their six championship teams. But, since they failed to score as well in the playoffs (21.6 PPG) and turned the ball over an alarming 12 times in three postseason games, they can’t take the top spot.
As mentioned in the previous slide, Bradshaw’s ’75 season virtually mirrored Roethlisberger’s ’05. Bradshaw threw 18 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, his lowest total for a season in which he played at least 14 games.
The majority of Bradshaw’s touchdowns went to Lynn Swann, who set a career high with 11 touchdown receptions. Both Swann and Bradshaw earned their first Pro Bowl selections after the ’75 season.
As far as running the ball goes, this championship team was among the best. They ran for 2,633 yards, the most on this list. Harris and Rocky Bleier combined for over 1,750 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.
Averaging an even 26 points, the ’79 Steelers squad scored at a slightly lower rate than the ’75 team, but it was unarguably more explosive.
The team topped 30 points in seven regular-season games, including a 42-point and 51-point outing. They maintained that pace in the playoffs by averaging nearly 31 PPG.
The passing game was more wide open than it had ever been, with Terry Bradshaw throwing for more than 3,700 yards. Obviously, that total was significantly more impressive in 1979 than it is today.
John Stallworth was Bradshaw's top target with over 1,100 receiving yards and his lone All-Pro selection. Swann was no slouch either with over 800 receiving yards and a 20-yards-per-reception average.
As one might expect, this explosive passing attack opened things up for the run game. The team ran for 2,603 yards, just 30 off the 1975 team’s total. The team’s top three rushers ran for over 2,200 yards and 21 scores. Harris accounted for more than half of each.