Five 49ers players to watch vs. Packers in Week 3 of 2021 NFL season

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Sermon, Ward among five 49ers to watch vs. Packers in Week 3 originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

The 49ers return from the road with a 2-0 record to face the Green Bay Packers on "Sunday Night Football."

Their record is exactly what was anticipated when the NFL schedule came out in the spring and revealed their first two games were slated at Detroit and Philadelphia.

Although not always picturesque, the 49ers took care of business.

Now, it gets real against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers — a team the 49ers defeated in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 19, 2020, in the last meaningful game that fans attended at Levi’s Stadium.

Here are five 49ers to watch on Sunday night:

5. QB Jimmy Garoppolo

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has not thrown the ball down the field much in the 49ers’ first two games. He has attempted only two passes of more than 20 yards or more downfield in the air, according to Pro Football Focus.

He might have more opportunities on Sunday night against the Packers — a defense that has not registered a quarterback sack through two games on the season.

The 49ers could mix in a little bit of Trey Lance’s dual-threat skills against the Packers. But, make no mistake, this is Garoppolo’s game to win or lose for the 49ers.

Garoppolo has gotten off to a good start, despite some obvious accuracy issues early in the 49ers’ Week 2 game against the Eagles. Garoppolo has a 111.4 passer rating. He completed 70.9 percent of his pass attempts with 503 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in two games. He also rushed for five first downs.

There has been no discussion of the 49ers making a change at quarterback to Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, because Garoppolo has played well enough to make that talking point irrelevant.

4. CB Josh Norman

The 49ers signed veteran cornerback Josh Norman just days before the season opener, and it’s a good thing they did.

Now, they need him.

Norman was among the players the 49ers brought to the media on Thursday, which seems to be a good indication he will remain in the starting lineup against the Packers. In his 49ers debut against the Eagles, he was called for two borderline pass-interference penalties but otherwise played very well.

The 49ers might get Emmanuel Moseley back this week after he missed the first two games with a knee injury. Norman has an opportunity to remain as the season-long starter after Jason Verrett sustained a season-ending knee injury in the 49ers’ season opener.

Norman, along with everyone on the 49ers’ defense, will face a big challenge against Rodgers on Sunday.

“He’s the best of the best, at the top of his game,” said Norman, a 10-year veteran who has faced Rodgers three times (all victories) in his career.

3. DE Nick Bosa

Nick Bosa is already very good. And he appears to be getting better.

Bosa has not looked like a player returning from a torn ACL that ended his 2020 season after Week 2. He registered one sack in the opener, then came back with two sacks in the 49ers’ defense-led 17-11 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Packers will not have the services of All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari for a while. He remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list with a torn ACL he sustained in practice on New Years Eve. His backup, Elgton Jenkins, has not practiced this week due to an ankle injury. The Packers could turn to eight-year pro Billy Turner to block Bosa.

RELATED: How Bosa, 49ers plan to make Rodgers uncomfortable Sunday

Bosa and the 49ers’ pass rush could provide a huge boost to the team’s hopes of shutting down Rodgers, just like they did two seasons ago in the playoffs.

“We just want to get off to a good start and have him feel the pressure overall,” Bosa said. “Because in 2019, we obviously made him uncomfortable. If he’s comfortable, it’s going to be a long day for anybody.

“We’ll try to close the pocket, make him get off his routine drop, and once you take him down, you want to make him pick himself up as many times as he can.”

2. RB Trey Sermon

At this point in the week, it appears likely that the 49ers will start their third different running back in the first three games of the season.

Rookie Trey Sermon, who is progressing well through the NFL’s return-to-play concussion protocol, appears set up to have a big opportunity on Sunday night against the Packers. Rookie Elijah Mitchell has been unable to practice with a shoulder sprain. He took quite a pounding in the first two games, rushing 36 times for 146 yards and one touchdown.

Sermon is next in line after injuries to Raheem Mostert (he will undergo season-ending knee surgery), Jeff Wilson Jr. (expected back in midseason after knee surgery), JaMycal Hasty (out a month or more with a high-ankle sprain) and Mitchell (day to day).

Sermon will get his first opportunity to show why the 49ers traded up in the third round to select him in the 2021 NFL Draft. He was inactive for the 49ers' season-opener at Detroit. He sustained a concussion on his only carry (an 8-yard gain) against Philadelphia.

The 49ers should have an opportunity for success on the ground. In the 2019 NFC Championship Game, Mostert set a club record with 220 yards rushing and four touchdowns.

1. FS Jimmie Ward

Rodgers can manipulate a defense as well as any quarterback in the league — in league history, in fact.

Ward, chosen as a captain for the first time in his career, has gotten off to a good start this season. But this will most certainly be a huge test for him and the entire 49ers defensive backfield.

After a horrible opener, Rodgers looked like the three-time NFL MVP he is on Monday night against the Lions. He completed 22 of 27 pass attempts for 255 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Ward is the last line of defense and will be the key factor in keeping Rodgers and his favorite target, Davante Adams, under control.

Ward expects to generate more big plays this season. Shockingly, he has not registered an interception since the 2016 season. This will be a difficult opponent against whom to break that streak.

That’s OK, though. As long as holds things down and keeps everyone on the same page in the 49ers’ secondary, that will make for a good night against Rodgers.

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