NASHVILLE, Tenn. - This preseason schedule couldn't have lined up better for the Tennessee Titans if they had planned it themselves.
The Titans open the NFL's regular season Sept. 10 in Pittsburgh against the defending Super Bowl champion's 3-4 defense. First, the Titans must wrap up the preseason Thursday night against Green Bay in what will be their third straight game against, yes, a 3-4 defense.
Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins called it a definite help Tuesday, even though he will play only a series or two against the Packers.
"No question. We've played a couple 3-4 teams now in a row," Collins said. "A lot of the schemes are similar to what we'll do against Pittsburgh. They do a couple different things you know so you have got to have a few wrinkles in there for things they do. For the most part, it's going to be a lot of the same type schemes."
No NFL coach likes to tip their hand during the preseason, so they keep schemes vanilla whether they line up four men with a hand down or three.
Titans center Kevin Mawae will play a bit longer against Green Bay as he works his way back from offseason surgery on his right, snapping arm. He said practicing for even a basic 3-4 helps build familiarity for offenses that may see a 3-4 defense only a few games each season.
"It changes the way we do our pass protections. It changes the way we call some of our run blocks things like that," Mawae said. "By virtue of guys seeing it, it gets you in tune with it. We saw it last week, we're going to see it this week. We're going to see it three, four times during the season."
This will be the eighth straight year that Tennessee and Green Bay wrap up the preseason against each other. But this game is different because Packers coach Mike McCarthy switched to a 3-4 defense during the offseason. Packers nose tackle Ryan Pickett said preparing for the 3-4 defense is tough in the regular season.
"I just think about when our coaches played 3-4 teams the last couple years, it's like practice is a whole different practice. It's like, 'Man, we've got to get this, we've got to get that.' Because they have no idea where you're coming from in a 3-4, and it's a lot harder to prepare for," Pickett said.
That is why Collins has been working ahead, watching film of the Steelers' defense the past couple days. It's a unit that led the NFL in yards and points allowed in 2008.
"A lot of my preparation this week is going to be for Pittsburgh," Collins said.
Backup quarterback Vince Young will get most of the work against Green Bay as Titans coach Jeff Fisher tries to rest his starters with only seven days before the visit to Pittsburgh.
Fisher said the preseason work against the 3-4 of Tampa Bay, Cleveland and now Green Bay should give the Titans a chance against Pittsburgh with the cumulative effect over essentially a month of work.
"There's a benefit, suppose they do keep things basic, that we don't have to go out and do things that we would carry on in the opener," Fisher said. "We're hoping things are basic, but we have to be prepared."
McCarthy likely will play his starters only a series or two as well after they dominated offensively and defensively in the first three exhibitions. Receiver Greg Jennings won't play after a blow to the head at Arizona last week, and the Titans won't miss him after he caught a 68-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers on the first play from scrimmage a year ago in the preseason finale.
The good thing for Tennessee is the Titans are coming off their best offensive performance of the preseason with their starters. Collins was 11 of 14 for 102 yards and a touchdown, with two incompletions the result of drops. Chris Johnson ran well and Tennessee had its longest TD drive of the preseason against Cleveland.
The Packers have 13 takeaways and have allowed a mere 10 points through three preseason games, and inside linebacker Nick Barnett will be playing more as he tries to reclaim his starting job in his return from a knee injury last season.
"It's going to be a good test," Fisher said.