NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Cortland Finnegan no longer patrols the secondary for Tennessee, gone for a bigger paycheck in St. Louis. That leaves the current Titans looking forward to the chance of facing - and trying to slow - Houston's Andre Johnson.
And everyone likely will get a chance at defending the 6-foot-3 receiver.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner, who wrested a ball away from Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew last week and ran it back for his first career touchdown, says he's excited by the challenge of defending Johnson a week after going up against Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
"These are the type of games that DBs look forward to," Verner said. "We thrive under these conditions because you know you're going to get tested and you're going to see balls thrown your way. You can't make a play unless you see a football thrown at you. That's why I'm excited."
Cornerback Jason McCourty said defensive backs definitely relish the chance to play against one of the NFL's top receivers. Johnson is averaging 78.9 yards per game through his career, the highest among any player with at least 100 games. Johnson has 13 catches for 212 yards with two TDs this season.
The Titans (1-2) managed to double-team Calvin Johnson last week, and the Lions receiver still finished with 10 catches for 164 yards with only one touchdown when no TDs or big yards are the goals.
"You get to this week, and you talk about a team with Arian Foster in the backfield and along with Ben Tate," McCourty said. "They do a lot of runs and a lot of misdirections and boots. You definitely can't focus on just Andre Johnson because their offense as a whole is a very tough one."
The Titans are near the bottom in many defensive categories. They are 31st giving up 463 yards per game, 30th allowing 312.7 yards passing so far, and 28th giving up an average of 8 yards per pass play. They've only gotten one interception through three games, with Verner picking off a Philip Rivers pass in a 38-10 loss on Sept. 16.
Houston (3-0) is averaging a middling 244.3 yards passing this season only because the Texans' run game is so good. Titans coach Mike Munchak said the Texans also have moved Johnson around to get him open. That's why everyone in the secondary has to be ready to defend Johnson while also staying disciplined to help against the run.
Johnson, who once got so ticked off at Finnegan pushing at his face mask that he slugged away at the cornerback, has been in this AFC South rivalry long enough not to be fooled by statistics.
"They know us, we know them and it's just a game where you get after each other, so it's a very physical game," Johnson said. "They have a great front. They get after the quarterback real well. They have a good back end so what they do, they do it very well."
Texans coach Gary Kubiak isn't eyeing the stats much, either, after watching the Titans play against Tom Brady, Rivers and Matthew Stafford. He also sees little difference in the Tennessee defense without Finnegan in coordinator Jerry Gray's schemes, where aggressiveness is key.
"It's just obviously doing it with a different corner out there," Kubiak said. "We see the same group, see them getting after the quarterback extremely well, really causing a lot of havoc there in the pocket. It's always a good battle when we get together. It's always a dang good physical contest when we play."
Both McCourty and Verner are a bit more cerebral in their approach to playing defensive back than the feisty Finnegan, but no less physical. Verner said Finnegan tends to irritate receivers by being physical and in their face each and every play, something Johnson doesn't appear to like.
That doesn't mean the Titans want to goad Johnson too far.
"Hopefully, we can stay away from any brawls and just go out there and play tough football," McCourty said.
Notes: MLB Colin McCarthy (right ankle) and WR Kenny Britt (ankle) did not practice. McCarthy could miss a third straight game if he can't practice some Friday. Britt said he hopes to play Sunday if he can push off his ankle. LG Steve Hutchinson did not practice due to a day of rest. TE Jared Cook (left shoulder) was limited.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL
Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter: http://twitter.com/teresamwalker