By Joe Starkey
It has been said many times, most recently by Le'Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger, that the only team capable of stopping the powerful Steelers offense is the Steelers themselves.
They're doing a pretty good job of it so far.
I believe the term is self-sabotage.
Bell essentially suspended himself by smoking marijuana and driving on the day of a business trip last August. The Steelers had a preseason game the next day in Philadelphia. He'll miss the first two regular-season games.
Now along comes second-year receiver Martavis Bryant, a hugely important player who outdid Bell by getting himself suspended four games for apparently violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Bryant has appealed the suspension, so I suppose there's a chance the league screwed something up. Wouldn't be the first time. If it holds, however, this can only be termed a case of the Steelers stopping the Steelers.
Throw in the lousy luck of losing star center Maurkice Pouncey to another major injury, and this offense suddenly looks mortal. You wonder what's coming next, with the starters slated to see significant action Saturday in Buffalo against a rambunctious defense.
At this rate, Mike Vick will be throwing to Randy Moss when the season opens Sept. 10 in Foxborough.
Speaking of which, if I'm Mike Tomlin, I'm approaching the rest of the ridiculous preseason with one goal in mind: keep my offensive stars healthy. I'm changing my plan to extensively use Roethlisberger, Bell and Antonio Brown on Saturday.
What possibly could be gained by giving Brown or Bell even one more touch before Sept. 10?
The challenge already is significant. No offense to Cody Wallace (Pouncey's likely replacement), Darrius Heyward-Bey (potentially in for Bryant) or DeAngelo Williams (in for Bell), but the Steelers are staring at the likelihood of opening their season without 19 touchdowns and a perennial All-Pro center from 2014.
That's really, really bad news in a year when the defense is riddled with issues, the latest being another injury to safety Mike Mitchell.
Don't minimize the potential impact of losing Bryant for a quarter of the season. He changed everything last season.
The Steelers were sputtering along at slightly more than 20 points per game when Bryant was activated for Game 7. They averaged more than 30 thereafter. Bryant provided a big-time deep threat (21.1 yards per catch) and a viable red-zone target. He scored eight touchdowns on just 26 catches — and he seemed poised to kick it up a notch this season.
He still might, but if the substance in question was marijuana, then Bryant is a multiple offender (only multiple violations could trigger a suspension). And that makes you wonder if another transgression would make Bryant the next Josh Gordon, the wildly talented Cleveland Browns receiver who can't get out of his own way.
Kind of makes you wonder, too, if concerns about Bryant prompted the Steelers to draft Sammie Coates in the third round. That seemed like such a luxury pick at the time. This offense certainly didn't need a rookie. It was ready to roll.
It looked unstoppable.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 FM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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