CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Panthers offensive line has major concerns this week, not the least of which is trying to keep Dallas outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware away from quarterback Cam Newton.
With three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil out for the season due to a foot injury, the Panthers have been forced to reshuffle their line. Geoff Hangartner is moving from right guard to center, Byron Bell goes from right tackle to right guard and Garry Williams starts at right tackle.
The Panthers (1-4) have allowed 13 sacks this season.
This Sunday will be the first time they've faced a true 3-4 defense in the regular season, and Ware has given them problems in the past.
Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross knows what kind of an impact Ware can have on a game.
Ware has five sacks in four games against the Panthers — all Dallas victories.
"He's a great, great player," Gross said. "There are lots of great players in this league, but it's always an exciting challenge when you're going against somebody you feel is probably going to be a Hall-of-Famer."
Ware has finished with double digits in sacks in each of the last six seasons and he's well on his way to a seventh.
He has six sacks through five games.
Last year might have his been his best yet, finishing with 19 sacks.
Gross has had his personal duels with Ware, but said it wouldn't surprise him to see the Cowboys use him other side of the line and test a lesser experienced Williams at right tackle.
Gross will tie a team record Sunday with his 141st career start.
Williams has started just 11 games, all of those coming in 2010. He spent last season on injured reserve after tearing an ACL in his knee last summer.
This will be his first time facing Ware.
"It's going to be a challenge," Williams said. "He's a great player who works hard and hustles. He's quick and he plays extremely smart."
Panthers coach Ron Rivera called Ware a "perfect fit" for Dallas' 3-4 defensive scheme and Gross agrees.
"I think his effort is consistently great," Gross said. "Some guys you just have to ride out the storm when it happens and sometimes you get to take play off. But not him. He's a great athletic who is strong and plays hard all game every play. He's a guy who has maximized his talent."
The Cowboys come into the game ranked second overall in defense and first against the pass.
Yet their biggest concern might be containing Carolina's running game.
The Panthers have struggled to find their identity on offense and Rivera said the team will make a concerted effort — more so than in recent weeks — to establish the power rushing attack with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
The Panthers are averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 114.0 yards per game.
"That's one of the things that we need to do," Rivera said. "We need to make sure that we're working hard at. It helps the quarterback."
And, Rivera hopes, keep Ware at bay.
"We want to be able to take some of that pressure off Cam, obviously," Rivera said. "And again, he puts it on himself too, but I think we can take some of (the pressure) off. Getting our running game going early would be a very good thing."
So Ware will be asked to do a lot more than just rush the passer.
But when Newton drops back, you can expect to see Ware coming with a full head of steam.
It's a challenge Gross is looking forward to.
"There'd be nothing better than to have a great game against a great player," he said.