Third in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2017 regular season.
GREEN BAY - By the time the Green Bay Packers host the Cincinnati Bengals during Week 3, early returns will be in on their revamped secondary.
The Packers made boosting their cornerback depth chart a top priority this offseason, signing free agent Davon House and drafting Kevin King with their first pick. They’ll open their season against Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson before a road trip to Atlanta, where they’ll face reigning MVP quarterback Matt Ryan and All-Pro receiver Julio Jones. If all goes well, there might be temptation to relax in relief when the Packers return from Atlanta.
That would be a mistake.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green didn’t give fans nightmares all offseason like Ryan and Jones, who torched the Packers in the NFC championship game, but they’re plenty dangerous. Green might have been the NFL’s best receiver before tearing his hamstring against the Buffalo Bills, ending his season in November. Each of his 66 catches for 964 yards came in the season’s first nine games, a pace that would have ended with 117 catches for 1,713 yards.
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It was enough for Green to earn a sixth Pro Bowl selection in his sixth season, but the hamstring injury prevented him from having what would’ve been his best season. So, no, the Packers’ defensive backs can’t relax, even if they get their revenge against Ryan and Jones. Dalton to Green is one of the league’s most lethal tandems.
Here are three more things to know about the Bengals.
» First road trip: It’s no secret the Packers have a brutal early-season schedule, but they have company. The Bengals open their season with two home games, the first time they’ve opened at home since 2009, but the first two months of their schedule include the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts. Wins could come at a premium early in the season, something to keep in mind with the Bengals’ first road trip coming at Lambeau Field.
» Fluid backfield: In the same game the Bengals lost Green for the season, they also lost running back Giovani Bernard. It’s uncertain when Bernard will return from his torn ACL against the Bills, but 10 months after the injury would be Sept. 20 – four days before the Bengals play the Packers. The Bengals padded their backfield with Bernard’s early-season availability in question, drafting controversial Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon in the second round. Mixon, who punched a woman three years ago as a college freshman, should give the Bengals a serviceable backfield combination alongside Jeremy Hill. With Bernard potentially in the mix, the Bengals’ running back trio could be a handful.
» Blocking Geno: The Packers’ offensive line will be tested from the start this season, but the Seahawks’ and Falcons’ pass rushers are stronger on the edge. That’s a more favorable matchup considering the Packers’ strength at offensive tackle with David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. Against Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the pressure will come in quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ face. Atkins, a five-time Pro Bowl tackle still at the top of his game at age 29, is capable of dominating games with his interior rush. He is frequently double teamed, but it rarely makes a difference. The Packers aren’t as strong on their interior offensive line after cutting Josh Sitton last summer and watching T.J. Lang leave in free agency this spring. They’ll get a big test early in the season.
Packers schedule glimpse
Sept. 24 vs. Bengals, 3:25 p.m., CBS
Week before: at Falcons, Sept. 17
Week after: vs. Bears, Sept. 28
On the horizon: at Cowboys, Oct. 8
Coach: Marvin Lewis (118-103, 15th season)
2016 record: 6-9-1, third AFC North
Scoring offense: 20.3 points per game (24th in NFL)
Total offense: 356.9 yards per game (13th)
Scoring defense: 19.7 points allowed per game (8th)
Total defense: 350.8 yards allowed per game (17th)
Series: Packers trail 5-7
Last meeting: It was a stunning Packers loss the last time they played the Bengals, on Sept. 22, 2013 in Cincinnati. Not because the Bengals were a bad team – they finished 11-5 and earned an AFC wild-card appearance that season. But after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter, the Packers scored 30 unanswered points to grab a two-touchdown lead in the third quarter. In a game of runs, the Bengals scored the final 20 points to win 34-30. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, facing an old nemesis Mike Zimmer’s defense, did not have his best day, completing 26 of 43 passes for 244 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Inside the final two minutes, the Packers’ last-ditch effort to win ended at the Bengals’ 20-yard line when Rodgers’ fourth-down pass intended for James Jones was batted down at the line of scrimmage.