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Despite efforts to minimize injury, Ben Roethlisberger declines again in December

Ben Roethlisberger has suffered through two consecutive poor Decembers. Despite an offense being implemented this year that was supposed to protect him, he suffered a more significant injury this year than he did last year. Has he recovered?

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley was brought in presumably with the idea of installing an offense more friendly to the health of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Judging by Roethlisberger's injuries in 2012 being more appropriately categorized as more severe than the ones he sustained in 2011, it doesn't appear the offense itself is the problem.

Maybe it's time to start exploring the quarterback himself.

Roethlisberger has suffered injuries past the halfway point in each of the last two seasons, and his numbers have fallen off in those years starting in December.

Perhaps not coincidentally, though, his deep passing numbers have increased post-injury in both years.

Roethlisberger was injured in Week 14 of the 2011 season in a win over Cleveland, then again in a loss to San Francisco in Week 15, causing him to miss the team's game the following week against St. Louis. He returned for the regular season finale against Cleveland, and played in the team's playoff loss to Denver.

Despite marginal differences in attempts, completions and percentage, Roethlisberger's completion percentage dipped 3.5 percent, yards per game dipped by 20 and yards per attempt dropped two-tenths. His interceptions per game went up 10 percent.

We're seeing the same thing in December of 2012. Roethlisberger returned in Week 14, and the Steelers have yet to win with him starting.

It's even more alarming in 2012. His completion percentage has dropped 12 percent from his pre-December pace, and his interception rate has more than tripled. While his touchdown numbers have increased, two of his six touchdown passes came in garbage time against San Diego.

he had a 60-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Brown in the Week 16 loss to Cincinnati, and removing that from his statistics, he was 13-for-27 for 160 yards (5.9 ypa) and two interceptions.

2012 Pre-December Total 209 316 2287 66.14% 7.24 17 4
Per game 23.2 35.1 254.1 1.9 0.4
2012 December Total 60.0 110 844 54.55% 7.7 6.0 4.0
Per game 20.0 36.7 281.3 2.0 1.3
2011 Pre-December Total 245 385 3070 63.64% 7.97 17 10
Per game 22.3 35 279.1 1.5 0.9
2011 December/Jan. Total 101 168 1296 60.12% 7.71 5 5
Per Game 20.2 33.6 259.2 1.0 1.0

With injuries, there's an obvious physical limitation a quarterback will have to endure, but the mental aspect cannot be ignored, either. While it's not a statistical evaluation, watching Roethlisberger play, it seems as if he's at least not confident in his post-injury ability this season. He's throwing with a good amount of velocity, but his accuracy is way down from where it was.

His interception late in the fourth quarter against the Bengals was a poorly thrown ball to a wide open Mike Wallace at the sideline. The interception he threw against Dallas in overtime wasn't a very good throw either. He also missed Wallace on a deep post where he had at least two steps on the defender.

It appears to an observer he's hanging onto the ball much longer than he did when he was one of the game's most productive passers. It's a reminiscent style to how he was playing in the days of former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians - as if he's inviting the pressure so he can react to that, then make a throw down the field.

It's possible some of that could be due to a lack of faith in the offensive line. His pass protection has been horrendous in the last three games, and he's taken far more hits after throws than he has while holding onto the ball. This can cause a quarterback's eyes to focus more on what's in front of him as opposed to what's down the field - hence the basis of the concept of aiming for pressure on a passer as opposed to getting sacks. Sacks are a byproduct of pressure, but pressure has just as much a lasting impact on the game.

Simply put, Roethlisberger looks rattled and is playing without the firm decisiveness the Steelers hoped he would have within Haley's shorter passing game.

This isn't blaming Haley for that - the Steelers have lost four starting linemen at three positions to significant injury this year (David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon and Mike Adams). This forced overwhelmed rookie Kelvin Beachum to make four starts, and that could be five heading into Week 17.

Whether it's an injury or attributable to a theory of a new-found aversion to big moment, Roethlisberger clearly is not the same late-game or late-season quarterback he has been in the past.