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Factoid Friday: Big Ben and the evolution of the Steelers passing game

Footballs are being completed at a percentage never seen before, something Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers are using to their advantage.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After nearly 70 years of existence, the Steelers record holder for single season completion percentage was a guy nicknamed Tommy Gun.

That's right. Following the 2002 season, the immortal Tommy Maddox held the Steelers single season completion percentage record. In his first season as a starter, Maddox completed 62.1 percent of his passes, surpassing Kordell Stewart's one-year-old record that saw him complete 60.2 percent of his throws.

Barely completing 60 percent of your throws seems like a small accomplishment in today's NFL, which shows how far the passing game has come over the past half century. In the 1970s, completing over 50 percent of your passes was considered successful, especially before the Mel Blount Rule was instituted prior to the 1978 season. That year, Terry Bradshaw won the league MVP award by passing for 2,975 yards with 28 touchdowns and a 56.3 completion percentage. Prior to '78, Brad's best passing season came in 1975, when he threw for 2,055 yards with 18 touchdowns and a career-best 57.7 completion percentage. A year later, Ken Stabler, who passed away on Thursday, completed a league-best 66.7 percent of his passes, a number that's even more impressive given the era in which he played.

Fast forward three decades. Before Ben Roethlisberger, only twice had a Steelers quarterback that had started at least 10 games complete more than 60 percent of his passes. In Ben's 11 seasons, only once has he failed to hit the 60 mark, with the one season being 2008, when Big Ben completed 59.9 percent of his throws in his 12 starts. The Steelers won the Super Bowl that season, so it's safe to say that Roethlisberger made the most of the passes he did complete.

Last season, Big Ben beat his own franchise record by completing 67.1 percent of his passes, a number that's even more impressive given the influx at receiver during the first half of the season. With Martavis Bryant and Sammie Coates expected to make big contributions to an offense already loaded with weapons such as Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Le'Veon Bell and Heath Miller, saying that Big Ben can complete over 70 percent of his passes is not a stretch at all.

Looking closer at these passing numbers makes it clear how much the passing game has evolved and therefore changed the game of pro football since the Blonde Bomber filled the sky with footballs four decades ago. While the rule changes have certainly made an impact on the passing game, more specialized coaching of the quarterback position aided by more offensive-minded coaches has also led to this golden age of passing. Starting with Paul Brown and Bill Walsh, the West Coast Offense forever changed the way the passing game is used. Not to mention the Don Coryell's Chargers and Al Davis' go for broke passing games stretched the field like never before. Bradshaw and the Steelers followed suit, and now, 40 years later, Big Ben and the Steelers offense is at the forefront again.

Roethlisberger's high completion percentage marks not just a symbol of the times. It's a tribute to the work he's done on his own and with offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who has worked with Big Ben to create an offense that has him completing a higher percentage of passes without taking as much punishment as he did earlier in his career. It's a testament to a steadily improving offensive line and a group of receivers that is paced by the best wide out in the game in Antonio Brown. Having an All-Pro in Bell in the backfield hasn't hurt Roethlisberger, either.

The passing game is thriving like never before in the NFL, and Roethlisberger is making the most of the new landscape that exists in pro football. This is a very good thing for the Steelers, and a not so good thing for opposing defenses hoping to slow Big Ben and the Steelers down in 2015.