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What we learned: Bryant, Bell bans hurt Steelers' O

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Coach Mike Tomlin was riding a wave of optimism back in March, when he declared that the Steelers are capable of becoming "the very best" offense in the NFL.

And why not?

Pittsburgh is home to the NFL's most unstoppable "triplets" in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Every game, all season

Once game-breaking wideout Martavis Bryant joined that trio after the Week 7 bye, the Steelers' per-game average skyrocketed from 20.7 to 31.2 points the rest of the way.

Now that Bryant is facing a four-game suspension in addition to Bell's two-game suspension, this offense will enter the NFL Kickoff bout missing the league's most versatile running back as well as one of the NFL's most explosive breakout candidates.

Those aren't the only obstacles. Four-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey is sidelined indefinitely with a broken bone in his lower leg.

When difference-making talents such as Pouncey, Bell and Bryant are replaced by journeyman Cody Wallace, a declining DeAngelo Williams and raw rookie Sammie Coates or slippery-mitted Darrius Heyward-Bey, the odds of Roethlisberger reaching his goal of putting "30 points on the board in every game" are greatly diminished.

This offense has struggled out of the gates in each of the past two seasons. As strong as the Bengals and Ravens are this year, the Steelers can't afford to put themselves behind the proverbial eight ball with another sluggish September.

Here's what else we learned on Thursday:

1. Rex Ryan is making a strong push to overtake Lovie Smith as the most hamfisted quarterback handler of the 21st century. After watching Tyrod Taylor pull away from the competition in the first two preseason games, Ryan has tapped EJ Manuel as the Bills' starter for the third preseason game.

To what end, Rex? This is a missed opportunity to have Taylor ultra-prepared to lead the offense against the Colts in Week 1. It's almost as if Ryan is placing a higher priority on keeping his opponent guessing than on getting his most qualified quarterback ready to play. If Ryan's approach has left you scratching your head, you are not alone.

2. The Ravens have rewarded Will Hill for good behavior, signing the thrice-suspended safety to a two-year contract. Still just 25 years old, Hill has a chance to become one of the league's most complete safeties in Baltimore.

3. While the defense is sound, the Ravens have questions on offense -- starting at wide receiver. Coach John Harbaugh confirmed Thursday that Breshad Perriman remains without a timetable to return from a sprained PCL that has sidelined the first-round rookie for the entire month.

4. Emmanuel Sanders has been out nearly as long, missing three weeks with a hamstring injury. The Broncos hope Sanders can graduate to light running this weekend, but the veteran wideout is still expected to miss the final two preseason games.

5. Nursing a sore throwing elbow, Johnny Manziel will sit out the Browns' third preseason game, coach Mike Pettine confirmed. Pettine conceded that Josh McCown will enter the season under center, telling reporters, "I think I've said he's the starter without saying it."

6. While Manziel is sidelined, Robert Griffin III has been cleared by an independent neurologist to play this week. He will start against the Ravens on Saturday.

7. Five months after calling it quits, Cortland Finnegan wants back in the NFL. The former Rams and Titans cornerback is willing to move to safety if necessary, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported.

8. Bryant's wasn't the only suspension news on Thursday. Letroy Guion's suspension appeal was denied, which means the Packers defensive tackle will miss the first three games of the season.

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