clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The top offenses in Pittsburgh Steelers history

If the 2015 Steelers' offense lives up to being the best unit in the NFL, they'll surely join this list of the greatest offenses in franchise history.

Manny Rubio-USA TODAY Sports

In large, the Pittsburgh Steelers are synonymous with defense.

The Steel Curtain defense dominated opposing offense with a fierceness and tenacity that still resonates today. Six Steelers defensive players spanning five decades are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the only two numbers to be formerly retired by the Steelers- Joe Greene's No.75 and Ernie Stautner's No.70- were worn by defensive players.

That doesn't mean that the Steelers haven't had prolific offense to match their peerless defensive units. And after Mike Tomlin said the Steelers offense could be the "very best" in the NFL this year, it got me thinking about the best offenses in Steelers history to date. Hopefully, the '15 offense prove Tomlin's words prophetic and join this list next year.

1978: After the NFL's Competition Committee implemented the "Mel Blount" rule limiting a defensive player's contact with receivers down-field, many thought the rule would weaken the Steelers.

What occurred was the exact opposite, as Hall-of-Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw flourished in his ninth season. He threw for a league-high 28 touchdowns and was named league MVP, while Hall-of-Fame receivers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth each turned in Pro Bowl seasons. Running behind lanes created by Hall-of-Fame center Mike Webster and fellow linemen Ray Pinney, Sam Davis and Larry Brown, Hall-of-Fame running back Franco Harris racked up his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season. Not to be forgotten in the Steelers attack was tight end Randy Grossmen, who replaced an injured Benny Cunningham to snare in a career-high 37 passes.

Pittsburgh's offense put 33 on the Orange Crush defense and 35 more on the Oilers in the playoffs en route to scoring 35 against the Cowboys' Doomsday Defense in Super Bowl XIII. Bradshaw took home Super Bowl MVP honors while throwing for 318 yards and four touchdowns, while Stallworth and Swann each recorded over 100-yards receiving in capturing Pittsburgh's third title of the decade. Franco scored on a 22-yard run late to help give the Steelers a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

1979: The term Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde perfectly applies to the 1979 Steelers offense. They led the NFL in total offense but also paced the league in turnovers. Bradshaw threw for a team-record 3,700 yards and 26 touchdowns, but he also threw 25 interceptions.

The Steelers never did figure out their turnover dilemma, turning the ball over three times in Super Bowl XIV. But despite these miscues, the Steelers offense was the best in the NFL. Led by Harris and the emergence of backup Sidney Thorton, the Steelers running game amassed over 2,600 yards for a 4.6 yards per carry average. Stallworth enjoyed his finest season of the decade, hauling in 70 passes for 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns.

Pittsburgh's offense again carried their momentum into the playoffs, scoring 34 on the Dolphins and 27 against the Oilers stout defense heading into their showdown with the Rams feisty defense in Super Bowl XIV. Pittsburgh recorded three passes that covered at least 45 yards as Bradshaw again took home MVP honors by passing for 309 yards that included the game-winning touchdown to Stallworth.

1995: Two words perfectly sum up the 1995 Steelers offense: Five wide.

Pittsburgh's five wide receiver set employed by offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt included Pro Bowler Yancy Thigpen, Andre Hastings, Charles Johnson, Ernie Mills, and Kordell "Slash" Stewart. Thigpen tallied over 1,300 yards that season, while Hastings paced all receivers with 10 catches for 98 yards in Super Bowl XXX. While Stewart provided several electric plays from the receiver position that season, Mills provided the season's biggest play with his 37-yard catch that set up the game-winning touchdown in the 1995 AFC Championship Game.

While their passing attack was fun to watch, the undisputed best offensive player on this team was center Dermontti Dawson, who was elected into the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame in 2012.

1997: Exciting is the first word that comes to mind when looking back at the 1997 Steelers offense.

In his first season as a starting quarterback, Kordell Stewart became the first quarterback in league history to throw for 20 and rush for 10 touchdowns in the same season. Stewart totaled 32 touchdowns that season while throwing for over 3,000 yards. Stewart threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more on two occasions, the first coming in a 42-34 win in Baltimore that saw Slash and the Steelers erase a 21-0 first half deficit. Stewart ran for three and rushed for two again in a Week 17 victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos. Connecting with Pro Bowl for three touchdowns, Stewart scored the game-clinching touchdown on a quarterback keeper in the team's 35-24 win. Bettis literally plowed over Denver's defense, rushing for 125 yards on 25 carries. The 1997 season was Bettis' finest, as the Bus rolled for 1,665 yards and seven touchdowns.

2001: Stewart, Bettis, and Hines Ward each earned Pro Bowl berths as the Steelers offense amassed nearly 5,900 yards of total offense. Bettis was off to one of his best seasons in his career, pacing the NFL with 1,072 yards through 11 games before suffering a season-ending injury. Always a threat to run, Stewart rushed for over 500 yards with five touchdowns while setting a then-franchise record by completing 60.2 percent of his passes. Ward and Burress became the first Pittsburgh teammates to each record 1,000 yard seasons.

2004: It's easy to forget how dominant the Steelers offense was during Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season. Led by a sterling offensive line anchored by Alan Faneca, the Steelers running game amassed over 2,400 rushing yards. Bettis and Ward each earned Pro Bowl berths, while receivers Antwaan Randle El and Plaxico Burress provided big plays at the receiver position.

Pittsburgh's offense put up big numbers against big competition that season. They amassed 417 yards and controlled the ball for nearly 43 minutes in their 34-20 win over the eventual Super Bowl champion Patriots. The following week, the Steelers gained 420 yards and kept the ball for nearly 42 minutes in a 27-3 thrashing of the defending NFC Champion Eagles.

2005: The 2005 offense trumped the '04 unit for two reasons: Heath and Fast Willie.

In his first season as a starter, Wilie Parker gained over 1,200 yards while averaging 4.7 yards a carry. A rookie, Miller caught a touchdown in his very first game and caught over 50 passes for six touchdowns that season. Jerome Bettis resumed his role as the team's closer, racking up nine touchdowns while rushing for 101 yards in a pivotal win over the Bears in Week 14.

A year older and wiser, Roethlisberger recorded a passer rating of nearly 99 while engineering a masterful playoff run that included wins in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver. The AFC title game in Denver was one of Ben's finest games as a pro as he completed 21 of 29 passes for 275 yards while scoring the game-clinching touchdown on a four-yard run.

Pittsburgh's offensive line was as cohesive as it was effective. Veteran center Jeff Hartings provided stability and leadership, while Faneca created the block that sprung Parker free on the 75-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XL.

2007: They didn't win a playoff game, but the 2007 Steelers offense was a treat to watch. Roethlisberger set a then-franchise record with 32 touchdown passes, while Parker finished fourth in the NFL with 1,316 yards. Second year receiver Santonio Holmes teamed with Ward to catch 15 touchdowns, while Miller and receiver Nate Washington collaborated to catch 12 touchdowns. Pittsburgh's offense totaled over 5,200 yards that season, Tomlin's first as the Steelers head man.

2011: While the 2010, AFC Championship Steelers offense was good, the 2011 offense was even better. Roethlisberger was blessed with arguably the deepest receiving unit of his career, as Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown each posted 1,000-yard seasons. Miller caught over 50 passes for 631 yards while Ward and Emmanuel Sanders provided depth in the passing game. Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redmond shared the bulk of the team's carries and gained a total of 1,407 yards with 12 touchdowns. Roethlisberger threw for nearly 4,100 yards while completing over 63 percent of his passes. Center Maurkice Pouncey anchored the offensive line while earning his first All-Pro selection and second consecutive Pro bowl berth.

2014: The Steelers achieved the triple-crown in 2014, as Roethlisberger tied Drew Brees for the league's passing title, while Brown and Le'Veon Bell paced the NFL in receiving yards and all-purpose yards, respectively. Rookie Martavis Bryant provided several big plays while scoring eight touchdowns and averaging over 21 yards per catch. Miller had one of his finest seasons, pulling down 66 catches for 761 yards.