If Mike Glennon is to be a viable starting quarterback in the NFL – and his first two games under center were certainly encouraging – then he's going to have to overcome a variety of welcome-to-the-NFL moments. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' visit to Atlanta on Sunday sets up just such a moment: his first start on the road, against a division opponent, in a stadium that can add a layer of difficulty on its own.
"It is quite a welcome to road football in the NFL for Mike," said Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano, whose team will play its first away game since Glennon took over under center. "He's going into a dome that's rather loud and he's going to have to manage that. We did everything we could to simulate it in practice and I think he handled it well, so now we've got to go handle it live."
Glennon at least will have the services of both of his starting wideouts, as Mike Williams has been cleared to play after missing last Sunday's game with a hamstring strain. Williams was limited through most of the week of practice but improved on Friday and is now ready to build on his good career work in the Georgia Dome. In three previous road games against the Falcons, Williams has 11 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
Williams pairs with Vincent Jackson to give Glennon two big-play threats who can work any level of the field. Last week, Jackson had one of his best career outings with nine receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns. He and emerging TE Tim Wright (six for 91) were Glennon's most favored targets, and that could be true again Sunday in Atlanta.
"Vince is our number-one guy and he works like it every day in practice," said Schiano. "I thought he played very well [last] Sunday and we count on Vincent playing very well every week. He's that kind of player and he and Mike [Glennon] seem to have a very, very good chemistry. We need to keep building on that."
As for Wright, the converted wide receiver has shown enough in his blocking efforts to give him a shot to succeed at the tight end position in the long run.
"So far he's done a nice job," said Schiano. "Again, if he was just a pass-catcher he wouldn't be a viable solution to what we're trying to do. But he's a tough guy. He's not overly big but he's a tough guy that will go in there and mix it up on run plays. Because he does that, now we have the flexibility to use his pass-catching skills, and often times his route running is a mismatch versus linebackers."
Glennon will not another one of his more intriguing weapons, as running back Jeff Demps is out after undergoing surgery to repair a groin injury on Thursday. Usual starting left guard Carl Nicks also had surgery this past week, on his foot, and will obviously not suit up against the Falcons. The Buccaneers have elected to make a shift on their interior line to accommodate Nicks' longer-term absence, with center Jeremy Zuttah moving to left guard and reserve Ted Larsen stepping in at center.
The Falcons' lineup will also be somewhat depleted due to injuries, particularly on offense. On Friday, the team ruled out three offensive starters – T Sam Baker, WR Roddy White and RB Steven Jackson – as well as reserve tight end Chase Coffman. These temporary losses come on the heels of WR Julio Jones' move to injured reserve; as such, the Falcons will open with a starting receiving duo of Harry Douglas and Drew Davis. Jacquizz Rodgers gets the start in the backfield while Lamar Holmes takes over at left tackle.
Fortunately for the Falcons, they still have a very competent man holding the offense together in QB Matt Ryan, who currently sports a 100.9 passer rating.
"Matt Ryan is a proven entity; he's just so good at reading things out and delivering the ball where it needs to go," said Schiano. "They still have weapons. We're going to have to really focus on the details of defending them because it's going to be one of those deals where we are on the road and offensively we'll have to battle some elements, with the noise being the biggest one. So we need to play great defense.
"You hope there's a little bit of newness to the wide receiver connection with Matt. Some of these guys have not played a ton. You hope that comes into play, and then our pass rush, our ability to alter his passes, you hope that can lead to takeaways."
Each team declared seven players inactive prior to Sunday's game. The Bucs deactivated Demps, Nicks, WR Skye Dawson, CB Deveron Carr, G Patrick Omameh, DT Derek Landri and DE Steven Means. The Falcons deactivated Baker, Coffman, Jackson, White, S Kemal Ishmael, G Harland Gunn and DT Travian Robertson.
The Buccaneers and Falcons will kick off their Week Seven matchup in the Georgia dome at 1:00 p.m. ET, and the game will be carried on television by Fox. The action will also be broadcast by the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will be available via a live stream on Buccaneers.com. Visit Buccaneers.com throughout the day to for further reports on the game action, including coverage of the team's postgame press conferences.