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From Big Ben to Careless Ben: Why Ben Roethlisberger's recent INT trend is troubling

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Ben Roethlisberger has thrown an alarming amount of interceptions since midway through the 2015 campaign, and it's one of the reasons the Steelers offense hasn't lived up to the hype.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

When a quarterback throws two interceptions through four weeks, and one of those interceptions was a total fluke and the outgrowth of the NFL's ridiculous idea of what a catch is, you don't necessary want to bring to light his recent trend of giving the football away.

But when that same quarterback exits Week 5 with five more interceptions to his name, perhaps it’s time to talk about this thing.

The quarterback in question is the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger, and this thing I'm referring to is his alarming recent trend of throwing interceptions, as evidenced quite frighteningly by the five he threw to the Jaguars in an embarrassing 30-9 loss at Heinz Field on Sunday.

Despite his career-long reputation as a gunslinger and sandlot quarterback, Roethlisberger was consistently careful with the football through his first 11 years.

Even during his first eight years, when former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians helped Roethlisberger earn his reputation by drawing up countless deep balls, he averaged 12.5 interceptions a year, a number achieved despite the 23 picks he threw in the post-Super Bowl XL, post-motorcycle accident, injury-riddled 2006 campaign.

But following the 2011 season, Art II wanted No. 7 to tweak his game, and with the help of new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, he did just that.

In fact, during Haley's first three seasons, Roethlisberger shaved over a half-a-point from his interception average, throwing a combined 31 between 2012-2014

The 2014 season was, without a doubt, Roethlisberger's most impressive campaign, as he set career highs in passing yards (4,952), attempts (608), completion percentage (67.1) and tied his career mark with 32 touchdowns.

But of all the numbers he posted in 2014, Roethlisberger's most impressive stat may have involved interceptions, and the nine he threw despite those 608 attempts.

With a great offensive line and an arsenal of offensive weapons that were the envy of the NFL, Roethlisberger was starting to accrue the kinds of numbers that would finally convince those who always wondered if he truly deserved the elite status his championship resume had already earned him.

But, then, Roethlisberger suffered an MCL sprain in Week 3 of the 2015 season, and everything seemed to change.

When he came back four weeks later, Efficient Ben had quickly turned into Careless Ben, and in his return against the Bengals, Roethlisberger threw multiple interceptions in a critical Week-8 loss at Heinz Field.

This trend continued for the rest of the season, as Roethlisberger threw a total of 14 interceptions during the final nine weeks.

A year ago, Roethlisberger registered 13 interceptions in 14 games.

With his seven picks through the first five weeks of the 2017 campaign, Roethlisberger has now thrown 34 interceptions in his last 28 regular-season games. Averaged out over 16 weeks, that's nearly 19.5 per season--or seven above his career average.

So, what’s happened in the last two years to make Roethlisberger go from a very careful quarterback to one throwing interceptions at a rate similar to Terry Bradshaw in the late-'70's?

Has he lost arm-strength? What about mobility?

Now in his mid-30's, has his vision diminished?

Is he forcing the football to Antonio Brown too much? (Brown had 10 catches against Jacksonville, but on an astounding 19 targets.)

Are his secondary receivers simply not getting open—this despite Brown consistently drawing double- and triple-coverage?

I don't know what the deal is, but Roethlisberger has worked with Haley long enough to know the offense. Therefore, interceptions should be a rarity for him these days.

But because they're not, it's one of the reasons this Steelers’ offense is struggling to live up to the hype.

The Steelers will only go as far as Ben Roethlisberger takes them in 2017, and until he cleans up his act (including those interceptions), you can couch the Super Bowl talk.