- Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Senior NFL Writer
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The Pittsburgh Steelers can pump the 'Next Man Up' football mantra and hope for the best, but at some point these persistent issues on offense will handcuff the team.
Le'Veon Bell's two-game suspension, Maurkice Pouncey's leg surgery, now this -- Martavis Bryant facing a four-game suspension for violation of the league's substance abuse policy, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
That's 19 touchdowns worth of 2014 production from Bell and Bryant alone, not counting all the touchdowns Pouncey helped produce as a Pro Bowl center.
For all the discussion about the Steelers' offensive wizardry and goals for 30 points per game, don't be surprised if they start slow once again, no matter how money Ben Roethlisberger is.
The past two seasons, the Steelers found a rhythm later in the year after sluggish starts. In the first six games of 2013, the offense averaged close to 18 points per game. The first six games of 2014, the average rose slightly to more than 19 points per game.
The offense just makes more sense with the 6-foot-4 Bryant in the game. Everything falls into place with Bryant as the second outside receiver opposite Antonio Brown, while Markus Wheaton mans the slot. The Steelers play receivers inside and out, but Bryant gives them more options. Plus, he's looked like a beast all offseason. He gained 20 pounds of good weight and he's been making tough catches all preseason.
Now he's put the Steelers in a tough spot. Wheaton has a chance he didn't fully realize last season, when he caught 53 passes for 644 yards and two touchdowns. More is expected in Year 3, and he must capitalize.
Darrius Heyward-Bey elevates to the No. 3 receiver. Heyward-Bey had a solid training camp, but he's averaged 316 yards per season since 2012.
Sammie Coates, stand up. What an opportunity for him. Mike Tomlin said today that he liked Coates' progress, but wants Coates to mirror Antonio Brown and others when it comes to physical prowess. Basically, Coates is in good shape but he's in rookie shape, and needs to elevate to great shape. I've found Coates' play to be uneven, as if he hasn't turned on a second gear that you would think he has. Let's see it. It's time.
When coupled with the other recent issues this offense has faced, the timing of Bryant's suspension is awful.
As if there wasn't enough pressure on Roethlisberger and Brown to make the offense hum.
Bryant has a big-play future if he learns how to say no.