Joe Montana vs. Steve Young: An Extensive Look Inside the Numbers

Ryan MichaelSenior Writer IIIApril 14, 2009

It was perhaps, the greatest quarterback controversy in NFL History. For many years, people have compared the storied careers of Joe Montana and Steve Young. As sports fans, comparisons are in our nature. So what I decided to do was take an in-depth look at one of the greatest competitive rivalries in NFL History.

The biggest question, of course, would be to determine who was the greater quarterback. I hit the books an evaluated 13 different aspects of both quarterback's careers in an effort to extensively analyze them.

You will now get an opportunity to see Joe Montana and Steve Young go head-to-head (figuratively) when looking at winning records, regular season passing statistics, regular season rushing statistics, postseason passing statistics, postseason rushing statistics, Super Bowl performances, career (regular and postseason combined) passing statistics, career rushing statistics, blocking support, rushing support, aerial support, defensive support, and accolades.

While this comparison might be quite extensive, it should shed much more light on careers of both Hall of Fame quarterbacks.


1) Winning Record

Joe Montana posted a 117-47 regular season record over the course of his career.

Steve Young posted a 94-49 regular season record over the course of his career.

In this case, Joe Montana managed to win 23 more games than Young, while also losing two fewer. Although Steve Young did not have as many opportunities to win as many games (due to the fact that he played in 21 fewer games), he did not manage to post as impressive a winning record as Joe Montana

Joe Montana posted a 16-7 record in the postseason over the course of his career.

Steve Young posted a 8-6 record in the postseason over the course of his career.

In the postseason, Joe Montana managed to win eight more games than Steve Young, while only losing one more than Young did. At the same time, Steve Young played in nine fewer postseason games during the span of his career. Even so, Joe Montana still holds a substantial edge in terms of his winning record in the postseason.

Joe Montana posted a 133-54 record during the entirety of his career.

Steve Young posted a 102-55 record during the entirety of his career.

It's simple mathematics, while both quarterback posted incredible winning records, the fact that Montana had a better winning percentage in both the regular season and postseason translates into him having the better career winning percentage. Joe Montana won 71-percent of his games while Steve Young won 65-percent of his.

Verdict: Joe Montana is the clear-cut winner when it comes to comparing the winning records that his teams posted when compared to the winning record produced during the career of Steve Young.


2) Regular Season Passing Performance

Joe Montana: 3,409 of 5,391 (63.2 percent) for 40,551 yards (7.5 YPA), 273 touchdowns, and 139 interceptions.

Quarterback Rating of 92.3.

Steve Young: 2,667 of 4,149 (64.3 percent) for 33,124 yards (8.0 YPA), 232 touchdowns and 107 interceptions.

Quarterback Rating of 96.8.

Clearly, both quarterbacks played at an elite level. Both posted impressive statistics in virtually every passing category. However, when taking a closer look at the production, you will find that Steve Young was more accurate (higher completion percentage), produced more yards (higher YPA), more touchdowns (0.055 touchdowns per attempt compared to Montana's 0.050 TPA) and an equal amount of interception frequency (0.025 IPA).

Steve Young's quarterback rating was 4.5 points higher than Montana's. While both quarterbacks rank in the top-ten in terms of quarterback rating (Young first and Montana seventh), the 4.5 quarterback rating points that separate Young and Montana would amount to the same amount of points that separate Dan Marino (86.4) from Neil O'Donnell (81.9). Not to say that Montana's rating wasn't extremely impressive, it's just that Steve Young's is almost unfathomable.

Verdict: While both quarterback produced at a remarkable level during the regular season, Steve Young is the more impressive of the two quarterbacks. He performed at a higher level in virtually every aspect, albeit, not by a large degree in most instances.


3) Regular Season Rushing Performance

Joe Montana: 457 carries for 1,667 yards (3.6 YPC) and 20 touchdowns.

Steve Young: 722 carries for 4,239 yards (5.8 YPC) and 43 touchdowns.

This one isn't even remotely close. Steve Young gained 2,572 more yards and averaged 2.2 more yards per carry. He also scored 23 more touchdowns in the process.

Verdict: Steve Young is the most productive rushing quarterback in NFL History and it should come as no surprise that this one particular aspect of the comparison wasn't a question.


4) Postseason Passing Performance

Joe Montana: 460 of 734 (62.7 percent) for 5,772 yards (7.9 YPA), 45 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions.

Quarterback rating of 95.5.

Steve Young: 275 of 447 (61.5 percent) for 3,118 yards (7.0 YPA), 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.

Quarterback rating of 86.1.

During the postseason, it is Joe Montana who ranks ahead of Steve Young in all of the passing categories. As a matter of fact, Montana's postseason quarterback rating actually increased 3.2 points while Steve Young's rating decreased by 10.7 points.

While Young's postseason quarterback rating is still higher than the career quarterback rating of Jim Kelly (84.4), the fact that his productivity sunk while Montana's increased certainly plays a factor in this evaluation.

Verdict: Joe Montana wins in this category by a substantial margin.


5) Postseason Rushing Performance

Joe Montana: 63 carries for 310 yards (4.9 YPC) and two touchdowns.

Steve Young: 82 carries for 506 yards (6.2 YPC) and 7 touchdowns.

While Steve Young did have 19 more carries than Montana, he was more productive in terms of rushing yards per carry and touchdown frequency.

Verdict: This aspect of Young's postseason performance is often overlookedbut not in this article. Steve Young wins in this aspect of postseason play.


6) Super Bowl Performance

Joe Montana: 82 of 122 (68.0 percent) for 1,142 yards (9.4 YPA), 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Quarterback rating of 127.8.

Steve Young: 24 of 35 (66.6 percent) for 325 yards (9.3 YPA), six touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Quarterback rating of 134.8.

Since Joe Montana played in four Super Bowls to Steve Young's one, let's take a look at Montana's Super Bowl average per-game production.

Joe Montana: 21 of 31 (68.0 percent) for 286 yards (9.4 YPA), 2.75 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Statistically speaking, Steve Young would be considered the more productive of the two quarterback in terms of per-game averages. However, the fact that Montana remained as productive as he did over the span of four total Super Bowls is something that sways my decision in his favor.

Joe Montana faced a Bengals defense that was ranked 12th in terms of PPG allowed in 1981, a Dolphins team ranked seventh in 1984, a Bengals team that ranked 16th in 1988, and a Broncos team that ranked first in 1989. That would bring the average defensive ranking for his Super Bowl opposing defenses to ninth which is the exact same ranking of the 1994 San Diego Chargers defense that Steve Young faced in his only Super Bowl.

Verdict: Due to the various points mentioned, I'll give the edge to Joe Montana. While Steve Young might have been more productive, I'll chose in favor of quantity over quality.


7) Career Productive Passing Performance (the combination of both the regular and postseason)

Joe Montana: 3,869 of 6,125 (63.1 percent) for 46,232 yards (7.5 YPA), 318 touchdowns and 160 interceptions.

Quarterback rating of 92.6.

Steve Young: 2,942 of 4,596 (64.0 percent) for 36,242 yards (7.9 YPA), 252 touchdowns and 119 interceptions.

Quarterback rating of 95.7.

This is one area that a many people either have a difficult time judging and/or simply deciding to separate regular season from postseason alltogether. Many people put a stronger emphasis on the postseason due to it's level of importance: they feel that the performance during this span should count for more.

I've seen instances where people actually feel that postseason performance is more important than regular season performance. Other people chose to weigh each period of time equally. Regardless of how much you value the postseason, that period of time only accounted for 12 percent of Joe Montana's career passing attempts and ten percent of Steve Young's career passing attempts.

I cannot declare how each reader is to value each instance, all I can do is display how well each quarterback performed during the entirety of their career. In that case, it is Steve Young who proved to be more accurate (higher career completion percentage), more productive (higher YPA), put more points on the board (higher TPA), and threw fewer interceptions (lower IPA).

Verdict: While both quarterbacks prove to be exceptionally close in most respects, Steve Young beats out Joe Montana in terms of all of the career passing categories.


8) Career Rushing Production

Joe Montana: 520 for 1,986 yards (3.8 YPA) and 22 touchdowns.

Steve Young: 804 for 4,745 yards (5.9 YPA) and 50 touchdowns.

Much like it was after comparing both the regular and postseason rushing productivity of the two quarterbacks, it is Steve Young who gained 2,759 more yards while averaging 2.1 more yards per carry. He also scored 28 more touchdowns during that same period of time.

Verdict: Without question, Steve Young beats out Joe Montana in terms of career rushing productivity. There was not a single area in which Montana was even remotely close to Young in this respect.


9) Blocking Support

Joe Montana played with a total of nine Pro Bowl offensive lineman selections during the 13 season in which he saw moderate playing time. I excluded 1979 as well as 1991-92 for lack of playing time.

Steve Young played with a total of 11 Pro Bowl offensive lineman selections during the nine season in which he saw moderate playing time. I excluded 1985, 1987-90, and 1999 due to lack of playing time.

While Pro Bowl selections of offensive lineman might not be the only way in which to evaluate the quality of pass-protection a quarterback had, it does give us some indication of just how many quality players both quarterbacks had blocking for them.

Verdict: I feel that Steve Young received the benefit of slightly better pass protection during the course of his career. Therefore, it is Joe Montana who played with slightly worse pass protection over the course of his career.


10) Team Rushing Production Support

During the 12 years that Joe Montana played regularly, this was the rushing production that backed him.

(I excluded 1979, 1991-92 for lack of playing time and 1982 due to the player strike.)

5,914 carries for 24,425 yards (4.13 YPC) and 182 touchdowns.

During the nine years that Steve Young played regularly, this was the rushing production that backed him.

(I excluded 1985, 1987-90, and 1999 due to lack of playing time.)

4,214 carries for 17,908 yards (4.24 YPC) and 173 touchdowns.

Let's now compare the seasonal average rushing support that both quarterbacks received.

Joe Montana: 494 carries for 2,035 yards (4.13 YPC) and 15 touchdowns.

Steve Young: 468 carries for 1,990 yards (4.24 YPC) and 19 touchdowns.

Verdict: While Montana's backs gained more yards, Young's backs scored more touchdowns and averaged more yards per carry. Although this one is close, I'd say that Steve Young was backed by a slightly better ground-game during the course of his career. Therefore, it was Joe Montana who played with less support in the running game.


11) Aerial Support

We now know how well each quarterback produced during the course of their careers. The area I would now like to explore is how much aerial support each quarterback received in the weapons department.

While it might be difficult to agree on a specific criteria to measure such things, I've decided to evaluate the situation according to how many 1,000-yard receivers each quarterback played with.

Joe Montana played with nine 1,000-yard receivers during the 12 seasons for which he was most active (for the same reasons stated in the previous category).

Steve Young played with nine 1,000-yard receivers during the nine years for which he was most active.

Verdict: This is another area that is close, but due to the frequency in which Steve Young had the benefit of playing with 1,000-yard receivers, I'd have to say that it was Joe Montana who played with slightly less aerial support during the course of his career.


12) Defensive Support

During the course of the 13 seasons in which Joe Montana saw moderate action, he played with a defensive squad that ranked at an average of 7.5 in terms of points per game allowed.

(I excluded 1979, 1991-92 for lack of playing time but included 1982, as I took the defensive average.)

Montana played with a top-ten defense in ten of those 13 seasons. He played with a top-five defense in eight of those 13 seasons.

However, his 1980 season in which his defense ranked 26th as well as his 1982 season in which his defense ranked 23rd might skew his overall average. With those two seasons removed, Montana played with a defense that ranked an average of 4.4 including a 3.1 ranking during his seasons in San Francisco.

During the course of the nine seasons in which Steve young saw moderate action, he played with a defensive squad that ranked at an average of 8.7 in terms of points per game allowed.

(I excluded his 1985, 1987-90, and 1999 season due to lack of playing time.)

Young played with a top-ten defense in six of those nine seasons. He played with a top-five defense in five of those nine seasons.

However, his 1986 season in which his defense ranked 28th overall might skew his overall average. With that one season removed, Young played with a defense that ranked an average of 6.4.

Verdict: While the combined average of defensive support would lead me to believe that Steve Young benefited from better defensive backing (so long as you exclude his 1986 season with the Buccaneers), the frequency in which Joe Montana played with top-ten or top-five ranked defenses sways my decision very slightly in the other direction.

As a result, I would say that it was Steve Young who played with slightly less defensive support over the course of his career.


13) Accolades

Joe Montana was selected to eight Pro Bowls while Steve Young was selected to seven. 

Both quarterbacks were selected as First-Team All-Pro three times and they were also both selected as Second-Team All-Pro three times.

Joe Montana won three Super Bowl MVP awards to Steve Young's one. However, in that one Super Bowl, Steve Young broke Joe Montana's Super Bowl record of five touchdown passes by throwing six.

Both quarterbacks were two-time NFL league MVP award winners and both were two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year award winners. Joe Montana also won the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award in 1986.

Verdict: This is another close one. Steve Young had a higher frequency of being selected to the Pro Bowl as well as being named to the first and second team All-Pro.

Still, Joe Montana managed to win three more Super Bowls than Young and collected two more Super Bowl MVPs than Young in the process.

I would have to say that Joe Montana gets the slight edge in terms of accolades won. 



There are so many criteria in which one can use to judge an NFL quarterback. The 13 different areas covered in this article are not to be weighed equally. I will leave it up to the reader to value each specific area and formulate their own decision.

Out of the 13 different categories covered, I decided that Joe Montana had a better winning record, better postseason passing production, better Super Bowl performances, worse pass protection, less rushing support, less quality aerial targets, and had won more accolades.

I also decided that Steve Young had better regular season passing production, regular season rushing production, postseason rushing production, career passing production, career rushing production, and played with less defensive support.

That means that Joe Montana performed in four areas better and had less support in three areas. Meanwhile Steve Young performed better in five areas while having less support in one area.

It's a very hard decision but I feel as if I have reached a conclusion.

Both two quarterbacks had exceptionally brilliant careers but when it's all said and done, I feel that Joe Montana is the greater of the two.

At the same time, I've also decided that Steve Young may have been the better of the two quarterbacks.

Essentially, Joe Montana had a longer career and also managed to achieve more in the process. Something has to be said for years of service. While Steve Young may have missed out on many years of playing time due to backing up Joe Montana, I can't credit him for the time he didn't play.

The time he did play however, might have been of a slightly higher quality than that if Joe Montana. The fact that he was better in every career statistical category backs that up, even though his lead he had was minimal.

When it's all said and done, both of these quarterbacks will be remembered for their remarkable careers. There is no right or wrong answer to this comparison. Both quarterbacks played exceptionally well in their own ways. Especially after having done all that research and after having looked at all of the various aspects, I can certainly understand why the San Francisco 49ers had such a difficult time making the decision of which quarterback to go with.