Five Thirty Eight claims to have settled the debate
Who was better: Montana or Young? Both won championships, and both have
been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The matter is made
more difficult because we lack play-by-play, air yards charting and
yards after catch data for that era, which would make the analysis more
robust. But since legendary coach Bill Walsh ultimately had to choose
between the two of them, so will we. Let’s wade into the all-time stats
of two of the greatest QBs in football history.
Curiously, though, they don't do much wading at all into the stats. Suffice to say that they conclude that the legendary coach made the wrong decision:
Young’s career stats — Elo, passer rating, adjusted yards per attempt — are superior to Montana’s.
That's true with one small qualifier. Young's career regular season
stats are indeed superior to Montana's. Steve out-dueled Joe in completion percentage, yards per attempt and touchdown percentage. Montana eked out a .001% win in interception percentage, but overall Young's passer rating of 96.8 is quite a bit higher than Montana's 92.3.
Ah but what about the postseason? The writer comes up with an excuse for the Niners not winning as many Super Bowls under Young as they had with Montana:
The obvious answers are the Cowboys and the Packers. Both teams ascended
at different times in Young’s career and became massive obstacles for
the Niners to overcome, particularly in the playoffs.
Fortunately, Joe Montana's 49ers never had to contend with anything comparable to the Cowboys and Packers, they had paper tigers like Joe Gibbs' Redskins, Bill Parcells' Giants and Mike Ditka's Bears.
In fairness he also goes to a lot of effort to prove that Young had lesser teammates around him than Montana, and particularly a lesser defense. Let's grant that as well. But how about if we look at Young and Montana's own postseason statistics to see if we can find any other clues as to why Joe had more success:
Nope, can't see any reason there, other than that Montana flipped around every statistic--he has a much better passer rating, a better completion percentage, more yards per attempt for a higher TD%, although he did throw interceptions at a slightly higher (worse) clip. Note as well that Montana has a higher career postseason passer rating than his regular season one, while Young's passer rating is quite a bit worse in January than in the regular season.
If we can look at the stats and see that Steve Young was a better regular season quarterback and college quarterback (the writer briefly compares their undergrad careers), why can't we look at the stats that tell us quite glaringly that Montana was a better postseason quarterback? Isn't that just as important if not more important than the regular season, particularly for a top-flight team like the Niners?