ATLANTA - OCTOBER 24: Roddy White #84 of the Atlanta Falcons reacts after scoring a touchdown against Adam Jones #24 of the Cincinnati Bengals at Georgia Dome on October 24 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
With players like Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow and Greg McElroy throwing passes to nameless receivers, it didn't present much of a preseason challenge last weekend for a secondary that needs to face a very good passing team to see where they stand.
Those days are over. Now they're going to have their work cut out for them.
Cincinnati's secondary rolls into Atlanta facing a passing offense on the upswing. Quarterback Matt Ryan, sporting a career record of 43-19 while averaging 3,941 yards since 2010 and 95 career passing touchdowns, completed 9-of-13 passes for 155 yards passing in a 31-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens last week.
Ryan's weapons include Roddy White, a three-time Pro Bowler and one-time First-Team All-Pro, and second-year receiver Julio Jones, who fell 41 yards short of 1,000 yards during his rookie season last year. He topped rookie Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green with eight touchdowns while generating seven receptions of 40 yards or more. And while the secondary is frighteningly obsessed with one of the league's better receiving duos, future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez presents a problem for Cincinnati's safeties and linebackers.
Then the preseason challenge for the secondary intensifies.
A week later Cincinnati will host the Green Bay Packers and reigning league MVP Aaron Rodgers, who leads a passing offense that's ranked in the top-three in each of the past two seasons, generating the second-most 20 and 40-yard passes last season.
Cincinnati won't have first-round cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, still recovering from an offseason knee injury. Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Nate Clements expect to see the bulk of the first-team snaps at cornerback with Taylor Mays, Reggie Nelson and Jeromy Miles covering at safety against Atlanta. Jason Allen, Adam Jones and Tony Dye could be questionable, if not doubtful after missing some (or all in other cases) practice this week.
Now the questions come. Can Taylor Mays hold his own in coverage? Will the Bengals remove him for Jeromy Miles in obvious passing situations? Can Newman and Clements show a consistent pedigree against younger receivers and how much closer is Leon Hall returning to top-form? Will Cincinnati blitz more, add pressure against the opposing offensive line and force Ryan and Rodgers into mental mistakes? Does Cincinnati exhibit more zone coverages with two deep?
The test begins Thursday night on Fox.
It's a test for the secondary with Mike Zimmer and secondary coach Mark Carrier, facing two of the NFC's better passing offenses this year.