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Will Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions trend for better or worse in 2017?

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Interceptions aren’t as cut and dry as some make them out to be, but the Pittsburgh Steelers will need a better, and more careful, Ben Roethlisberger in 2017 if they want to add to their trophy case.

NFL: AFC Championship-Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Every year the website Footballoutsiders.com does a study called adjusted interceptions. The study attempts to calculate the amount of interceptions a quarterback “should” have thrown by counting things like plays where a defensive player drops the pick, or when a receiver is able to break up a poor pass.

Football Outsiders explained what goes into their methods more in-depth, but it isn’t a very complicated formula. First the writers at Football Outsiders start with each player’s interception total. Next, using game charting data from the previous season, the writers add in plays like the ones mentioned above. Finally, the writers subtract interceptions where a receiver tipped a ball to a defender and interceptions on desperation throws such as a Hail Mary at the end of a game. While it’s not a perfect stat, it can help paint more complete picture of a quarterback’s season.

Taking this metric into account, Ben Roethlisberger’s adjusted interception total is second in the league, with 25. That’s 13 actual interceptions and 12 dropped or defended interceptions. Roethlisberger trailed only Eli Manning, who had 26 adjusted interceptions. So, is the Steeler’s signal caller’s appearance on this list a fluke, or a concerning trend for the Steelers? More importantly, should fans care about this stat?

To address the latter point first, it has to be noted that interceptions can fluctuate year to year, meaning it’s difficult to forecast interceptions for players. However, adjusted interceptions actually are more consistent on a year to year basis. For the last five years Roethlisberger has ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of adjusted interceptions, then in 2016 he suddenly jumped toward the top of the list. So, what factors could have contributed to Roethlisberger’s season?

It’s important to put Roethlisberger’s season in context and not just rely on the numbers. For one thing, Roethlisberger was injured in 2016. He missed one game with a knee injury, and then had to work his way back into shape. The Steelers played games where weather was an issue, namely the game against Cleveland in the heavy wind, and the game in Buffalo with heavy snow.

Then there’s the small issue that for most of the season Roethlisberger was throwing to players like Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, an injured Sammie Coates, Jesse James, and Xavier Grimble. Without any disrespect toward those players, they aren’t exactly the players the Pittsburgh front office envisioned surrounding Roethlisberger heading into the season. It’s definitely plausible that Roethlisberger had to force balls he didn’t want to throw toward other players due to the inexperience with the above group.

Interceptions fluctuate from year to year, as do injuries to players. Roethlisberger had an uncharacteristically inconsistent year on the road, and the Steelers as a team had a year where they were very streaky, as was on display during their four-game losing streak followed by a nine-game win streak kind of streaky. It’s unlikely Roethlisberger will have that kind of bad luck two years in a row.

That being said, Roethlisberger will be 36 during the 2017 season, and is no spring chicken in NFL terms. It’s reasonable to anticipate some decline from the franchise quarterback. A retooled running game and a healthy wide receiver group can go a long way toward mitigating any fall off Roethlisberger does experience.