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Five Questions Facing The Steelers

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With rosters set, the dust settled on the preseason and the kick-off to the NFL season just one week away, here are five major questions facing the 2016 Steelers.

Can Le’Veon Bell stay on the field this year?
Entering his fourth season in the NFL, star Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell seems to be recovered from knee surgery after tearing his MCL and PCL last November. Bell is also looking at a three-game suspension for failing to attend multiple drug tests.

According to several media reports, Bell changed his cell phone number and never got notifications of test times. Upon appeal, his suspension was reduced from four to three games. Perhaps most importantly, Bell will remain in his current stage of the substance-abuse program, meaning Bell's next suspension would also be four games, not 10.

This is Bell's second suspension. He missed the first two games of the 2015 campaign after marijuana possession and DUI charges in August 2014.

By the time he takes the field for the first time this season, Bell will have played in just 35 of 51 possible NFL games due to either suspension or injury.

In Bell’s one full season with the Steelers (2014), he ranked second in total rushing yards and touches, with only ex-Cowboy DeMarco Murray having more in both categories.

Who will step up for Martavis Bryant?Steelers Sammie Coates
Martavis Bryant, who developed into one of the NFL's top deep threats over the past two seasons, will miss the entire 2016 campaign because he also violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Bryant also missed the first four games of the 2015 season for the same policy violation.

Since Bryant entered the league in 2014, only Antonio Brown scored more touchdowns for the Steelers than him.

Second-year receiver Sammie Coates and eight-year veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey are expected to pick up the slack in Bryant’s absence. Coates had a tremendous camp and was productive in a playoff loss to Denver last season. Heyward-Bey caught 21 passes for 314 yards and two scores last season.

Can Ben Roethlisberger remain upright and productive?
Roethlisberger is entering his 12th year in the NFL, and during the 2015 campaign started less games than he had in any previous season.
Steelers Ben Roethlisberger
He also threw 16 interceptions, which is his second-highest season total in his career, behind the 23 interceptions he threw in 2006.

Last season, Roethlisberger missed four games due to an MCL sprain that he suffered in a Week 3 matchup against the then-St. Louis Rams. He was also diagnosed with a concussion in week 12, but did not miss a game, and suffered a shoulder injury in a playoff win over the Bengals, yet started in Denver the following week.

Throughout his career, Roethlisberger has endured three shoulder injuries, but only missed a total of one game. His left ankle and foot have also been injured more than once throughout his career.

Will the defense perform better?
Between Roethlisberger’s first year in 2004 and the 2013 season, Pittsburgh’s defense had never fallen out of the top 10 in yards allowed, and had not been worse than 12th in points per game.
Steelers Ryan Shazier
However, in the past three seasons, the Steeler defense allowed an average of 351.4 yards per game and 352 points in a season. Pittsburgh averaged a ranking of 17th in yards per game allowed, and ranked 14th in points per game allowed.

In 2015, the Steelers gave up the third-most passing yards, and ranked 19th in passing touchdowns given up.

The rushing defense was solid last season, however, finishing fifth in the NFL, and they gave up the second least touchdowns on the ground.

In an effort to sure up the passing defense, the Steelers spent their top two picks on Miami cornerback Artie Burns and Maryland safety Sean Davis. The secondary also received a late-boost with a trade for former Browns first-round pick Justin Gilbert.

Can the offense continue to perform well?Steelers Antonio Brown
Whereas the overall defensive ranking of the Steelers has declined over the past three years, Pittsburgh’s offense has improved significantly.

After losing a divisional round playoff game to the Tennessee Titans during the 2002 campaign, the Steelers did not rank in the top 10 in yards per game or points per game for the next 11 years.

In the past two years, however, the Steelers averaged fifth in the league in points scored, and were in the top three in yards gained.

In his 35 starts since coming into the league in 2013, Le’Veon Bell has rushed for 2,777 yards and found the endzone 22 times.

Antonio Brown has found even more success than Bell in Pittsburgh’s offense, scoring 31 touchdowns since the start of the 2013 season.

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