1) Can the Steelers establish a run game without Le'Veon Bell?
This question has been asked many times during the offseason, but I'm asking it again since it is almost certain Bell will be serving his suspension for smoking dope with LeGarrette Blount last August. Blount will also be out for that game, so the Patriots will be facing a similar situation in terms of the run game, but Le'Veon Bell is a more critical cog in the machine for the Steelers. In fact, he isn't a cog. He is the machine.
DeAngelo Williams should be able to pick up some slack and, more importantly, he's probably not going to go for a ride with his teammates and get stoned, so that's a plus in the avoid-suspensions-for-drug-use department. The offensive line is strong enough and the Steelers are preparing for a known quantity instead of being caught off-guard by Blount's walk-off and Bell's injury. That is an advantage over the situation they faced going into the playoff game, during which they appeared completely crippled by Bell's absence. Williams, Dri Archer, and Josh Harris have time to prepare and come up with a game plan that works well with their strengths and takes into account their deficiencies.
2) What kind of performance can we expect out of Ben Roethlisberger?
This question is somewhat tied to the first: it will depend- to some extent- if the Steelers can establish a run game. If they can, then it will be interesting to see if Roethlisberger will completely pick apart the Patriots ailing secondary. With Darelle Revis gone, the Patriots will probably have to revert to a soft-zone-type defense, which could work to the Steelers advantage and also put more pressure on the Patriots linebackers. Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant are a nightmare duo even for the best of secondaries, so this could end up being a very high scoring game for Roethlisberger who is coming off one of his best seasons with just under 5,000 yards.
3) Who can cover Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski?
Every team that faces the Patriots asks themselves this question, and very few have found a good answer. No linebacker has demonstrated an ability to cover Gronk successfully. Depending on where Gronkowski lines up, Sean Spence or Ryan Shazier could be faced with this herculean task. In the secondary, it could be Shamarko Thomas or whoever is playing in the slot.
The Steelers can aim to contain Grownkowski. Aiming to stop him, in my mind, is fatuous. It's like trying to defeat Ganon in the Legend of Zelda without the Silver Arrow. Death Mountain, I mean Gillette Stadium, isn't in Hyrule, and metaphorical silver arrows are hard to come by, especially with Steelers D has been suffering to the extent that it has. Hopefully Butler can work some magic and find a solution to the unsolvable problem of the Gronk.
Seriously, what's our best option for covering Gronkowski?
What other non-Brady questions do you see going into the season opener?